NASA has just unveiled an asteroid-probing spacecraft that will launch later this year.
The media on Monday got to take a look at Nasa's newest craft, designated Psyche, the US space agency said in a statement.
“Welcoming reporters into the cleanroom gives the public a glimpse of the years of hard work that have gone into this mission,” said Brian Bone, Psyche’s assembly, test, and launch operations manager at JPL.
“Thanks to the Psyche team’s determination and skill, we’re in the final stretch of readying the spacecraft to head out to our launch site in Florida."
Due to liftoff from Cape Canaveral, Florida in August, Psyche will voyage to a metal-filled asteroid of the same name.
First, the spacecraft will fly by Mars to boost its gravity in May of 2023.
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And then in early 2026, it will journey towards the asteroid Psyche, located in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
The asteroid is about 173 miles at its widest and comprises mainly metal.
Nasa said the metal-rich rock may derive from the core of a planetesimal, which is one of the "building blocks" of the rocky planets found in our solar system.
If this is indeed the case, the asteroid "could provide a unique opportunity to study how planets like our own Earth formed," Nasa explained.
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The mission is the 14th selected as part of NASA’s Discovery Program and is being led by Arizona State University
However, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory(JPL) at Caltech will handle the mission’s system engineering, tests, and mission operations.
Currently, the project is in a phase known as 'assembly, test, and launch operations'.
In this phase, Nasa has completed tasks such as attaching the largest solar arrays ever installed at JPL and conducting tests on the spacecraft.
"After undergoing electromagnetic, thermal-vacuum, vibration, shock, and acoustic testing, Psyche has been cleared to proceed," Nasa said.
They noted that the launch period opens on the first day of August.
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JPL is also developing an instrument called Deep Space Optical Communications that will launch with Psyche,
This device will assess "high-data-rate laser communications" that Nasa may use in future missions.
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