The story could be that of a science fiction film: “an asteroid worth several thousand billion euros, ready to be explored by earthlings during a space mission”. Yet this is indeed what NASA is preparing to do during one of its next missions to the asteroid called “16 Pysché”.
16 Psyche, The Asteroid That Was Worth Billions
Located between Mars and Jupiter, 16 Psyche is a metallic asteroid that has something to dream about. 226 kilometers wide, it has a core of iron, nickel and gold. So many particularities that mean that its value, for us earthlings, is estimated at nearly 10,000 quadrillions of euros. A wealth which, if shared, would allow each person living on Earth to receive nearly 1.4 billion euros, reports La Libre.
“Deep within terrestrial planets, including Earth, scientists infer the presence of metallic cores, but these lie far beneath the planets’ rocky mantles and crusts. Asteroid Psyche offers a unique window into these elements. constituents of the formation of planets and the possibility of investigating a type of world hitherto unexplored”, explains NASA.
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NASA, soon on its way to 16 Pysché
NASA’s trip to asteroid 16 Psyche has been planned since 2019. Initially, it was in August 2022 that the space agency had planned to launch its spacecraft, also called Psyche. But the start of the mission has been delayed by development and software problems and postponed to August 10, 2023. However, it will take until 2026 for the spacecraft to arrive on the asteroid. Once there, it should orbit for 21 months to study the composition of the asteroid, says Forbes.
“I am extremely proud of the Psyche team (…) During this review, the team has demonstrated significant progress already made towards the future launch date. I am confident regarding this plan which goes from forward and excited about the unique and important science this mission will generate,” said Laurie Leshin, director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The Psyche spacecraft will therefore travel to the asteroid using solar-electric propulsion, after a flyby of Mars and gravity assistance. Then, after its arrival, the mission plan calls for mapping the asteroid and studying its properties.
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Will the resources of asteroid 16 Psyche be exploited?
The idea might seem tempting, but no, NASA’s mission does not plan to go to asteroid 16 Psyche to exploit its resources, but to explore and observe it. Moreover, for the resources of the asteroid to be exploited, it would have to be brought to Earth and, from a technical and financial point of view, this is impossible. At least for now.
The purpose of this mission is therefore purely scientific. Measuring how metal and rock intermixed could help scientists determine how Psyche formed, among other things. Experts hope the mission will provide enough information to improve our understanding of planet Earth’s core.
Exploration of the asteroid could also provide valuable insight into the formation of our own planet and others. “Team Psyche will use a magnetometer to measure the asteroid’s magnetic field. A multispectral imager will capture images of the surface, as well as data on Psyche’s composition and topography. Spectrometers will analyze neutrons and gamma rays from the surface to reveal the elements that make up the asteroid itself”, explains NASA on its site.
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