Psyche Orbital Operations
NASA’s Psyche spacecraft will gather science at the asteroid Psyche at four orbit altitudes, as depicted in this graphic. It has been updated to reflect an October 2023 launch.
The orbits are named alphabetically from highest (A) to lowest (D), but they don’t proceed in alphabetical order. Rather, they proceed based on the changing amount of sunlight illuminating the asteroid’s surface during observation and the kind of science that can be done. Because sunlight will illuminate less and less of the asteroid’s surface when the first part of Orbit B begins, this orbit is split into two parts, B1 and B2, so that the spacecraft can complete its mapping of the asteroid. The expected order of orbits during Psyche’s prime mission is A, B1, D, C, B2.
Arizona State University leads the Psyche mission. A division of Caltech in Pasadena, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is responsible for the mission’s overall management, system engineering, integration and test, and mission operations. Maxar Technologies in Palo Alto, California, provided the high-power solar electric propulsion spacecraft chassis.
JPL also is providing a technology demonstration instrument called Deep Space Optical Communications that will fly on Psyche in order to test high-data-rate laser communications that could be used by future NASA missions.
Psyche is the 14th mission selected as part of a NASA’s Discovery Program, managed by the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. NASA’s Launch Services Program, based at the Kennedy Space Center, is managing the launch service.