NASA to check out an asteroid that's potentially worth more than our global economy.
NASA is about to begin building its latest spacecraft. Called “Psyche” it will explore a 140 mile wide asteroid called “16 Psyche” which looks something like the artist's impression (above).
Located in the Solar System’s main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, metal-rich 16 Psyche is thought to be the exposed metallic iron, nickel and gold core of a protoplanet. Most asteroids are rocky or icy, but not this one. 16 Psyche’s core is tantalisingly similar to Earth’s, which means that it could be the heart of a dead planet that lost its rocky outer layers or suffered from violent collisions, reports Forbes.
The metals that make-up this one-of-a-kind asteroid could, according to some, be worth $10,000 quadrillion. In the scale of zeroes that make an 'illion', there are 9 zeroes in a billion, 12 in a trillion, and a whopping 15 in a quadrillion. No wonder everyone's getting so excited.
Due to launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in August 2022 on top of a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket, fly-past Mars in 2023, and begin orbiting the asteroid in January 2026, Psyche has just passed its “critical design review” stage. Now the mission moves to actually making the space hardware.
“It’s one of the most intense reviews a mission goes through in its entire life cycle,” said Lindy Elkins-Tanton, principal investigator for the Psyche mission. “And we passed with flying colors. The challenges are not over, and we’re not at the finish line, but we’re running strong.”
The team hopes that by examining Psyche, they can glean greater knowledge of how Earth and other planets formed. As such, the spacecraft will be fitted with a magnetometer that measures the asteroid’s magnetic field; a multispectral imager to snap pics of the surface and obtain composition and topography data; and spectrometers that “will analyze the neutrons and gamma rays coming from the surface to reveal the elements that make up the asteroid itself.”
Apparently there's no truth in the rumour that the space ship will also be carrying a bloke with a bunch of mining equipment and a return ticket. Not yet, anyway.
You might like to find out more by watching NASA's intriguing 5 minute video explaining the mission: