The Elon Musk-owned SpaceX will be responsible for getting the space probe launched onboard a Falcon Heavy. US-based space agency NASA wrote in a statement: “The Psyche mission will journey to a unique metal-rich asteroid, also named Psyche, which orbits the Sun between Mars and Jupiter.
“The asteroid is considered unique, as it appears to largely be made of the exposed nickel-iron core of an early planet – one of the building blocks of our solar system.”
The asteroid is considered unique, as it appears to largely be made of the exposed nickel-iron core of an early planet
If all goes according to plan, the audacious mission will launch next year from Florida’s Cape Canaveral.
The NASA Psyche probe, named after the asteroid it is exploring, will be loaded with equipment to investigate the asteroid’s composition.
According estimates, the materials constituting Psyche are worth a $10,000 quadrillion.
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However, it would be impractically expensive to return the bounty to Earth with current-generation tech.
NASA’s incentive, though, is to instead retrieve new data about Psyche to help explain the solar system’s early history.
Astronomers believe studying this new asteroid will provide new clues about how terrestrial planets like Earth form, according to a statement from NASA.
NASA officials said in the statement: “The asteroid is considered unique, as it appears to largely be made of the exposed nickel-iron core of an early planet — one of the building blocks of our solar system.”
Rocky, terrestrial planets such as Earth are believed to have a metallic core. However, it is difficult to observe or measure a planet’s core directly because it lies far below a planet’s mantle and crust.
By studying this unique asteroid up close, scientists hope to better understand the violent history of collisions and accretion that created terrestrial planets, according to the statement.
Telescope observations suggest asteroid Psyche is primarily made up of nickel and iron.
But experts believe the space rock could also contain precious metals such as gold and platinum, which may be worth thousands of billions of pounds.
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Psyche will likely have five solar array panels, as well as power and propulsion systems allowing the probe to navigate to and orbit the asteroid.
The scientific experiments the spacecraft will perform are in the design and fabrication phase.
Final assembly and testing of the craft is expected to begin early next year, according to NASA.
NASA has ambitious plans for both manned and unmanned space travel in the next decade.
The space agency wishes to resume manned missions from American soil for the first time since the space shuttle program ended in 2011.
US Vice President Mike Pence announced in March last year he wanted to put astronauts back on the moon by 2024, despite setting his previous goal at 2028.
American astronaut Eugene Andrew Cernan was the last man to walk the moon in 1972.
US President Donald Trump is yet to make it clear whether he supports the mission.
The president urged in June last year for NASA to focus on “much bigger” initiatives such as a Mars mission.
Speaking to engineering students at the University of Colorado Boulder NASA head Jim Bridenstine suggested an all female crew could be sent on the mission.
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