Hypothesized Surface: Robotic Explorer for Hypothesized Surfaces – MSU – A
“Michigan State University Robotic Explorer Design Team“
Michigan State University (MSU)
Tungsten Class (2023 – 2024)
Drew Darin, Mechanical Engineering
Sara Moscone, Mechanical Engineering
SCIENTIFIC AND TECHNICAL GUIDANCE
Dr. Ranjan Mukherjee
The NASA Psyche Mission, led by Arizona State University, is a mission to send an orbiter to the metal-rich asteroid Psyche. The asteroid, 16 Psyche, is contained within the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. This orbiter, which was launched on Friday, October 13, 2023, is en route to reach the asteroid mid-2029. The key element that makes the Psyche asteroid unique is that it is not composed of rock and ice, but rather mostly metallic substances. Its surface is hypothesized to be made from large amounts of nickel, iron, and silicate materials. Because of this, Psyche has been compared to metallic cores of terrestrial planets, including that of Earth. This leads Psyche to be highly valuable in the research of planetary cores and the processes that lead to planet formation. Research of this caliber has not been conventionally possible before given the extremely harsh environment that lies deep below the crust and mantle of Earth.
While the mission described above is purely conducting orbital studies, it is likely that a trip to land on Psyche will be advantageous to further the research on the surface. Our team’s project was to design a robotic explorer which is capable of adapting to the multiple hypothesized surfaces of Psyche. The surface of the asteroid has been proposed to be mostly flat and metallic with metal or rocky debris. It is also known that there is likely rough and high-relief terrain similar to formations seen in deserts and mountainous regions. Lastly, the surface has been reported to contain large craters on the surface of the asteroid. This extreme variation yields a unique problem that must be solved by an explorer that is adaptive to the environment that exists on Psyche. Given the uncertainty of the surface, many challenges were to be overcome by our design team and the systems included in our robotic explorer.