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Delay tightens launch window of NASA mission to curious metal asteroid

 This illustration depicts NASA’s Psyche spacecraft.
This illustration depicts NASA’s Psyche spacecraft.

The launch of a NASA mission from Kennedy Space Center to a peculiar metallic asteroid has been delayed a week, cutting into a shrinking launch window.

NASA has a slim window to launch the robotic spacecraft Psyche to the asteroid belt, where it will study the 170-mile wide asteroid of the same name.

That window closes on October 25. Issues with the spacecraft’s thrusters have pushed the launch on SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket from this week into next, with daily launch opportunities starting on October 12 after a critical flight readiness review last week cleared the way for final launch preparations.

Unlike many asteroids that are made up of rock or ice, Psyche is made of metal and scientists believe it is the exposed core of a planet. Studying it will give insight into how our own planet formed.

“There are a lot of basic questions about Psyche that are unanswered,” said the mission’s principal investigator, Lindy Elkins-Tanton of Arizona State University. “And with every detail that gets added from data we can collect from Earth, it just becomes harder to make a sensible story. We really don’t know what we’re going to see until we visit, and we’re going to be surprised.”

Mission managers missed a launch window last year due to software testing issues.

The $1.2 billion mission will spend two years orbiting the asteroid, taking pictures, maping the surface, and searching for any signs of an ancient magnetic field. It will also examine neutrons and gamma rays coming from the asteroid’s surface to help uncover its composition.

Copyright 2023 WMFE. To see more, visit WMFE.

Brendan Byrne
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