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NASA’s Psyche is not just any ship, it will use electric propulsion to travel to the Asteroid Belt.

In August 2022, if all goes according to plan, a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket will put the NASA Psyche nave. While the Falcon Heavy will use combustion to get off Earth, the ship itself will not, as it essentially relies on electric thrusters and solar panels. To travel … around 2,400 million and at speeds of up to 320,000 kilometers.

Once the spaceship reaches space will deploy its huge solar panels, which will allow you to monopolize all possible solar energy to convert it into electricity. This is later used in conjunction with the four NASA Hall thrusters that will be incorporated into the spacecraft. They are special propellants.

Preparing Psyches Thruster Installation 2048x1365

Psyche’s four electric thrusters.

Inside the spacecraft, NASA will load a total of 922 kilograms of xenon, the neutral gas that will allow the spacecraft to propel itself through space. The ship’s four thrusters use magnetic fields to accelerate and expel ionized xenon atoms. This ejection creates a (slight, very slight) impulse with beams of bluish light.

Nasa Psyche Spacecraft IllustrationNasa Psyche Spacecraft Illustration

Psyche once deployed its solar panels. Via NASA.

While the thrust is minimal, it is more than enough for the ship accelerates in deep space without atmospheric resistance some to slow it down. Let us remember that in space it is not so much a question of strength as of intelligence, after all we can even launch satellites that orbit the Earth by hand. In fact, the spacecraft is expected to reach speeds of up to 320,000 kilometers on its way.

Psyche to study … Psyche

But where does Psyche go? Well precisely to Psyche, an asteroid with the same name and old acquaintance in these parts, as we saw when NASA and SpaceX teamed up to study it. It is an asteroid of particular interest because it is full of metals in its interior. As an exercise in curiosity, with an approximate size of 225 km wide and packed with iron and nickel, it is estimated that its value is (here we go) 10,000,000,000,000,000,000 dollars. About ten times the world economy.

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The all-metal composition suggests to researchers that it is a planetesimal nucleus, that is, the early phase of the origin of a rocky planet. It would not be surprising, after all, it is located in the Asteroid Belt, the “limit” of the solar system from where what we find are already gaseous and not solid planets.


Different views of 16 Psyche taken by HARISSSA. Via ESO.

When Psyche (ship) reaches Psyche (asteroid), we will be able to know with more certainty what this composition is like and it will allow us to better understand the formation of the planets. Currently it is just a point of light in the telescopes we have. On 2026, when the ship reaches its destination, it will have to dock with the asteroid’s orbit and from there deploy its analysis instruments.

Via | Futurism
More information | JPL NASA