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This line drawing shows the Psyche asteroid in the center with diagrams of the various parts of the spacecraft floating in orbit around it.

Psyche FAQ

Mission:

What is Psyche? Artboard 1

Psyche is the name of an asteroid orbiting the Sun between Mars and Jupiter and the name of a NASA space mission to visit that asteroid, led by ASU. Psyche is the first mission to a world made of metal rather than rock or ice.

When was the Psyche mission selected? Artboard 1

The Psyche mission was chosen by NASA on January 4, 2017.

What kind of mission is Psyche? Artboard 1

Psyche is the 14th mission selected for NASA’s Discovery Program, a series of relatively low-cost missions to solar system targets.

What can visiting the Psyche asteroid tell us? Artboard 1

The asteroid Psyche may be able to tell us how Earth’s core and the cores of the other terrestrial (rocky) planets came to be. (The terrestrial planets are Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars.)  We can never go to the Earth’s core. Because we cannot see or measure Earth’s core directly, the Psyche asteroid offers a unique window into the violent history of collisions and accretion that created the terrestrial planets. It is the only known place in our solar system where we can examine directly what is almost certainly a metallic core of an early planet.

What is the timeline of the Psyche mission? Artboard 1

  • 2022: Launch of Psyche spacecraft from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, FL
  • 2023: Psyche spacecraft flyby of Mars
  • 2026: Psyche spacecraft arrives in asteroid’s orbit
  • 2026-2027: Psyche spacecraft orbits the Psyche asteroid for 21 months

How much does the Psyche mission cost? Artboard 1

The mission costs approximately $850 million (which includes mission development, operations, and science). This amount does not include cost for the launch service, which is procured separately. It does not include the cost for the Deep Space Optical Communications demonstration hardware or operations.

What are the Psyche mission science goals? Artboard 1

The Psyche mission science goals are to:

  • Understand a previously unexplored building block of planet formation: iron cores.
  • Look inside terrestrial planets, including Earth, by directly examining the interior of a differentiated body, which otherwise could not be seen.
  • Explore a new type of world. For the first time, examine a world made not of rock and ice, but metal.

What are the Psyche mission science objectives? Artboard 1

The Psyche mission science objectives are to:

  • Determine whether Psyche is a core, or if it is unmelted material.
  • Determine the relative ages of regions of Psyche’s surface.
  • Determine whether small metal bodies incorporate the same light elements as are expected in the Earth’s high-pressure core.
  • Determine whether Psyche was formed under conditions more oxidizing or more reducing than Earth’s core.
  • Characterize Psyche’s morphology.

Who is building the Psyche mission? Artboard 1

The mission is led by Arizona State University. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is responsible for mission management, operations and navigation. The spacecraft’s solar-electric propulsion chassis will be built by SSL with a payload that includes an imager, magnetometer, and a gamma-ray spectrometer.

How can I learn more about the Psyche mission? Artboard 1

To learn more about the Psyche mission, visit:

sese.asu.edu/Psyche

www.jpl.nasa.gov/missions/psyche

www.nasa.gov/psyche

 

Or follow the Psyche mission on social media:

Twitter: @NASAPsyche

Facebook: NASAPsyche

Instagram: NASAPsyche

Why can't we visit Earth's core? Artboard 1

The core of the Earth lies at a depth of 3,000 kilometers, or more than 1,800 miles. We have only drilled to 12 kilometers, or about 7.5 miles, so far because that’s the most our technology allows today. Additionally, Earth’s core lies at about 3 million times the pressure of the atmosphere. The temperature of Earth’s core is about 5,000 Celsius (~9,000 Fahrenheit).

Asteroid:

When was the Psyche asteroid discovered? Artboard 1

The asteroid, Psyche, was discovered in 1852 by Italian astronomer Annibale de Gasparis. It was the 16th asteroid to be discovered, so is sometimes referred to as (16) Psyche. The asteroid was named for the goddess of the soul in ancient Greek mythology.

What is the Psyche asteroid made of? Artboard 1

Psyche is likely made almost entirely of nickel-iron metal.  Its bulk appears to be metal but its surface appears to have small areas that are rocky.

How do we know what the Psyche asteroid is made of? Artboard 1

The composition of Psyche has been determined by radar albedo (radar albedo is the “ratio of a target’s radar cross section in a specified polarization to its projected area; hence, a measure of the target’s radar reflectivity”[1],[2]) and by thermal inertia (thermal inertia “refers to the ability of a material to conduct and store heat, and in planetary science, its measure of the sub surface’s ability to store heat during the day and reradiate it during the night.”[3])

[1]Ostro, S. J. (1999). Planetary Radar. Encyclopedia of the Solar System. Available from http://echo.jpl.nasa.gov/asteroids/ostro_1998_encyc_ss.pdf

[2]“Radar is an acronym for ‘radio detection and ranging.’ Radar was developed to detect objects and determine their range (or position) by transmitting short bursts of microwaves. The strength and origin of “echoes” received from objects that were hit by the microwaves is then recorded.

[3]https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/spaceimages/details.php?id=PIA19357

When do we find out what Psyche is made of? Artboard 1

We have only had good evidence for metal composition since about 2010.

Where is the Psyche asteroid? Artboard 1

Psyche lies in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

What do scientists think the Psyche asteroid is? Artboard 1

Scientists think Psyche is the exposed nickel-iron core of an early planet, one of the building blocks of our solar system.  Psyche is most likely a survivor of multiple violent hit-and-run collisions, common when the solar system was forming.

How long is a day on Psyche? Artboard 1

A day on Psyche is about 4 hours and 12 minutes.[1]This is the sidereal rotation period, or the “amount of time it takes for a [body] to completely spin around and make one full rotation.”[2]You could live through just under six “days” on Psyche in the same time as one day on Earth!

[1]Shepard, M. K., Richardson, J., Taylor, P. A., Rodriguez-Ford, L. A., Conrad, A., de Pater, I., … & Close, L. M. (2017). Radar observations and shape model of asteroid 16 Psyche. Icarus, 281, 388-403: “sidereal rotation period P = 4.195948 h”

[2]https://spaceplace.nasa.gov/days/en/

How long is a year on Psyche? Artboard 1

A year on Psyche lasts about five Earth years (about 1,828 Earth days).[1]

[1]https://ssd.jpl.nasa.gov/sbdb.cgi?sstr=16

How far is the Psyche asteroid from the Sun? Artboard 1

Psyche orbits the Sun at an average distance of 3 astronomical units (AU) (about 280 million miles); Earth orbits at 1 AU (about 93 million miles). Because Psyche and Earth orbit at different speeds, the distance from Earth to Psyche varies over a large range! From < 2 AU to > 4 AU.

How much does Psyche asteroid weigh? Artboard 1

The mass of Psyche is estimated at (2.72 ±0.75) × 1019kg (27 sextillion!), which is about 2,700 times less massive than Earth’s moon.[1],[2]

[1]Shepard, M. K., Richardson, J., Taylor, P. A., Rodriguez-Ford, L. A., Conrad, A., de Pater, I., … & Close, L. M. (2017). Radar observations and shape model of asteroid 16 Psyche. Icarus, 281, 388-403.

[2]People will ask how much Psyche weighs, but “Mass and weight are often used interchangeably even though the terms have very different meanings. Mass, the amount of matter an object contains, and weight, the measurement of the pull of gravity on an object” (https://www.nasa.gov). “Scientists and engineers often measure an object’s mass—how much matter the object contains—rather than its weight. Mass stays the same regardless of location and gravity. You would have the same mass on Mars or Jupiter as you do here on Earth” (https://spaceplace.nasa.gov/planets-weight/en/).

How dense is the Psyche asteroid? Artboard 1

Psyche is dense. Measurements are still being made, with estimates ranging from 4,000 kilograms per cubic meter (kg/m3) (a mix of rock and metal)[1] to 7,000 kilograms per cubic meter (kg/m3) (similar to the density of a bar of steel).[2]

[1]Drummond, J. D., Merline, W. J., Carry, B., Conrad, A., Reddy, V., Tamblyn, P., … & Christou, J. (2018). The triaxial ellipsoid size, density, and rotational pole of asteroid (16) Psyche from Keck and Gemini AO observations 2004– 2015. Icarus, 305, 174-185.

[2]Elkins-Tanton, L. T., Asphaug, E., Bell, J. F., Bercovici, D., Bills, B. G., Binzel, R. P., … & Jun, I. (2017, March). Asteroid (16) Psyche: Visiting a Metal World. In Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (Vol. 48).

Does the Psyche asteroid have gravity? Artboard 1

The surface gravity on Psyche is much less than Earth, and even less than the Moon.[1]On Psyche, lifting a car would feel as light as lifting a dog or a 2ndgrader!

[1]Psyche mean surface gravity = 0.144 m/s2(Shepard, et al, 2017). Earth=9.8 m/s2, Moon= 1.6 m/s2

How big is the Psyche asteroid? Artboard 1

As asteroids go, Psyche is relatively large and has an irregular shape. It is 279 x 232 x 189 kilometers (173 x 144 x 117 miles).[1]  If Psyche were a perfect sphere, it would have a diameter of 226 kilometers (140 miles). That is about the length of the state of Massachusetts (leaving out Cape Cod). If it were in Arizona it would stretch between Phoenix and Flagstaff! The Psyche asteroid has a surface area of about 641,800 square kilometers (246,300 square miles), making it just smaller than the area of the state of Texas and quite a bit larger than the area of California.

[1]Shepard, M. K., Richardson, J., Taylor, P. A., Rodriguez-Ford, L. A., Conrad, A., de Pater, I., … & Close, L. M. (2017). Radar observations and shape model of asteroid 16 Psyche. Icarus, 281, 388-403.

What does the Psyche asteroid look like? Artboard 1

A pixelated black and white image of psyche the asteroid.Scientists have combined radar and optical observations to generate a 3D shape model of Psyche.[1]This model shows evidence for two crater-like depressions. It suggests that there is significant variation in the metal content and color of the asteroid over the surface. But remember, no one has seen the Psyche asteroid yet, so we will not know what it actually looks like until the spacecraft arrives. This is the best look we have from radar observations.

[1]http://outreach.naic.edu/ao/blog/radar-observations-and-shape-model-asteroid-16-psyche

Spacecraft:

How big will the Psyche spacecraft be? Artboard 1

The full spacecraft, including the solar panels, is 24.76 meters (~81 feet) long by 7.34 meters (~24 feet) wide. That is about the size of a (singles) tennis court.

How big will the Psyche spacecraft bus (body) be? Artboard 1

The bus (body) of the spacecraft is 3.1 meters (~10 feet) long by 2.4 meters (almost 8 feet) wide. To help you visualize this, it is slightly bigger than a Smart Car; it about the size of a garden storage shed. It is as tall as a regulation basketball hoop!

How will the Psyche spacecraft get to Psyche? Artboard 1

The Psyche spacecraft will use solar-electric (low-thrust) propulsion. Solar electric propulsion uses electricity from solar arrays to create electromagnetic fields to accelerate and expel charged atoms (ions) of xenon to create a very low thrust with a very efficient use of propellant.[1]This will be the first use of Hall effect thrusters beyond lunar orbit.

[1]https://www.nasa.gov/content/how-will-nasas-asteroid-redirect-mission-help-humans-reach-mars

What kind of propellant will the Psyche spacecraft use? Artboard 1

The Psyche spacecraft is using xenon. Xenon is a gas that is in the air we breathe (in very small amounts– 0.09 parts per million![1]). Xenon gas is used in high quality light bulbs, including automobile headlamps and movie projectors. As NASA explains, “The most common propellant used in ion propulsion is xenon, which is easily ionized and has a high atomic mass, thus generating a desirable level of thrust when ions are accelerated. It also is inert and has a high storage density; therefore, it is well suited for storing on spacecraft.”[2]

[1]http://www.srh.noaa.gov/jetstream/atmos/atmos_intro.html

[2]https://www.nasa.gov/centers/glenn/about/fs21grc.html

What instruments are on the Psyche spacecraft? Artboard 1

The Psyche spacecraft will carry a multispectral imager, a gamma ray and neutron spectrometer, and a magnetometer, and will conduct radio science.

Psyche Spacecraft Instruments:

Facts about the Psyche Multispectral Imager: Artboard 1

  • Provides high-resolution images using filters to discriminate between Psyche’s metallic and silicate constituents.
  • Consists of a pair of identical cameras designed to acquire geologic, compositional, and topographic data.
  • Purpose of the second camera is to provide redundancy for mission-critical optical navigation.

The team is based at Arizona State University.

Facts about the Psyche Gamma Ray and Neutron Spectrometer: Artboard 1

  • Will detect, measure, and map Psyche’s elemental composition.
  • Mounted on a 2-meter (6-foot) boom (“arm”) to:
    • distance the sensors from background radiation created by energetic particles interacting with the spacecraft;
    • provide an unobstructed field of view.
  • The team is based at the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University.

Facts about the Psyche Magnetometer: Artboard 1

  • Designed to detect and measure the remnant magnetic field of the asteroid.
  • Composed of two identical high-sensitivity magnetic field sensors located at the middle and outer end of a 2-meter (6-foot) boom (“arm”).
  • The team is based at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA).

Facts about Psyche Radio Science: Artboard 1

  • The Psyche mission will use the X-band radio telecommunications system to measure Psyche’s gravity field to high precision.
  • When combined with topography derived from onboard imagery, this will provide information on the interior structure of Psyche.
  • The team is based at MIT and JPL.

Facts about the Deep Space Optical Communication (DSOC): Artboard 1

  • The Psyche mission will test a sophisticated new laser communication technology that encodes data in photons (rather than radio waves) to communicate between a probe in deep space and Earth.
  • Using light instead of radio allows the spacecraft to communicate more data in a given amount of time.
  • The DSOC team is based at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Our Team:

Who is on the Psyche mission team? Artboard 1

The Principal Investigator is Lindy Elkins-Tanton, Arizona State University (ASU) and the Deputy Principal Investigator is Jim Bell, ASU. Other co-investigators are:

  • Erik Asphaug, University of Arizona
  • David Bercovici, Yale University
  • Bruce Bills, Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)
  • Richard Binzel, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
  • William Bottke, Southwest Research Institute (SwRI)
  • Catherine Bowman, ASU
  • Ralf Jaumann, Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt
  • Insoo Jun, JPL
  • David Lawrence, Johns Hopkins University, Applied Physics Laboratory (APL)
  • Simone Marchi, SwRI
  • Timothy McCoy, Smithsonian Institution
  • Ryan Park, JPL
  • Patrick Peplowski, APL
  • Carol Polanskey, JPL
  • Thomas Prettyman, Planetary Science Institute
  • Carol Raymond, JPL
  • Chris Russell, University of California, Los Angeles
  • Benjamin Weiss, MIT
  • Dan Wenkert, JPL
  • Mark Wieczorek, Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur
  • David Williams, ASU
  • Maria Zuber, MIT

The Mission leadership includes:

  • Diane Brown, Program Executive, NASA Headquarters (HQ)
  • Sarah Noble, Program Scientist, NASA HQ
  • Belinda Wright, Mission Manager, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC)
  • Henry Stone, Project Manager, JPL
  • Robert Mase, Deputy Project Manager, JPL
  • Deborah Bass, Mission System Manager, JPL
  • Brian Johnson, Project Business Manager, JPL
  • David Oh, Project System Engineer, JPL
  • Kalyani Sukhatme, Payload Manager, JPL
  • Rob Menke, Mission Assurance Manager, JPL
  • Mark Brown, Flight System Manager, JPL
  • Steve Scott, SEP Chassis Program Manager, SSL
  • Peter Lord, SEP Chassis Deputy Program Manager, SSL
  • Tess Calvert, ASU Project Manager, ASU

What does the Principal Investigator (PI) do? Artboard 1

  • The PI is responsible for overall mission success, and for the scientific integrity and execution of the mission within committed cost and schedule.
  • The PI oversees the team organization, decides science priorities and progress, and oversees delivery of mission data to NASA’s Planetary Data System.
  • The PI is the decision-maker within the Psyche team, and NASA is the ultimate decision-maker.
  • The PI is responsible for ensuring that all mission participants are playing their roles as defined by the Team Guidelines.

Who are the Psyche science partners? Artboard 1

The Psyche science partners are:

  • Applied Physics Laboratory (APL)
  • Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR)
  • Glenn Research Center (GRC)
  • Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
  • Malin Space Science Systems (MSSS)
  • Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur
  • Planetary Science Institute (PSI)
  • Smithsonian Institution
  • Southwest Research Institute (SwRI)
  • SSL
  • University of Arizona
  • University of California Los Angeles (UCLA)
  • Yale University