Psyche’s Thruster Integration Underway
Engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California work to integrate Hall thrusters into the agency’s Psyche spacecraft in this July 2021 photo. One of the thrusters is visible on the side of the spacecraft beneath a red protective cover.
Psyche is set to launch in August 2022 and will travel to its target, a metal-rich asteroid also named Psyche, under the power of solar electric propulsion. This super-efficient mode of propulsion uses solar arrays to capture sunlight that is converted into electricity to power the spacecraft’s Hall thrusters. They work by turning xenon gas, a neutral gas used in car headlights and plasma TVs, into xenon ions. As the xenon ions are accelerated out of the thruster, they create the thrust that will propel the spacecraft.
This will be the first use of Hall thrusters beyond lunar orbit, demonstrating that they could play a role in supporting future deep space missions.