Psyche, a robotic space mission designed to investigate a metal-rich asteroid of the same name situated in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, is scheduled to launch in October 2023, with a launch window extending from October 5 to October 25.
NASA released a revised mission plan for Psyche on Wednesday, which involves a Mars flyby for a gravity assist and an August 2029 arrival to the asteroid. The project will next start its 26-month science phase, during which the spacecraft will circle the asteroid at various altitudes and collect observations and data.
The revised strategy allows the mission greater flexibility in how the spacecraft utilizes its electric propulsion thrusters to approach the asteroid, transition between orbits, and remain in orbit, according to a statement from the agency.
Psyche will launch from Launch Complex 39A aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket
Psyche was originally designed to circle the asteroid at four distinct altitudes, beginning with the highest (named Orbit A) and gradually dropping to the lowest (Orbit D). Nevertheless, the revised mission plan calls for the spacecraft to first enter Orbit A, then descend to Orbit B1, go to Orbit D, return to Orbit C, and then enter the second portion of Orbit B, known as Orbit B2.
NASA reports that the redesigned orbital pattern will optimize lighting conditions for the spacecraft’s imagers during Orbits B1 and B2, while the remaining orbits have been tailored to facilitate the observations required by the Gamma-Ray Neutron Spectrometer, magnetometer, and telecommunications system, which are used for the gravity science experiment.
The asteroid Psyche is thought to be the partial core of a planetesimal, the building block of rocky planets in our solar system, and it may shed light on the formation of the Earth’s core.