Hypothesized Surface: Robotic Explorer for Hypothesized Surfaces – MSU – A

Michigan State University Robotic Explorer Design Team


Michigan State University (MSU)


Tungsten Class (2023 – 2024)


Nicholas Malcolm, Mechanical Engineering
Drew Darin, Mechanical Engineering
Ethan Wise,
Sara Moscone, Mechanical Engineering
Justin Schmitz,
Sean Blanchard,


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.

This work was created in partial fulfillment of the Michigan State University Capstone Course “ME 481”. The work is a result of the Psyche Student Collaborations component of NASA’s Psyche Mission (https://psyche.asu.edu). “Psyche: A Journey to a Metal World” [Contract number NNM16AA09C] is part of the NASA Discovery Program mission to solar system targets. Trade names and trademarks of ASU and NASA are used in this work for identification only. Their usage does not constitute an official endorsement, either expressed or implied, by Arizona State University or National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of ASU or NASA.