NASA’s Psyche mission is preparing for a 1.5 billion-mile (2.4 billion-kilometer) solar-powered trip to a metal-rich asteroid with the same name.
In a clean room at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in February 2022, twin solar arrays were attached to the spacecraft body, unfolded lengthwise, and then re-stowed as tests on Psyche continue. The five-panel, cross-shaped solar arrays are the largest ever installed on a spacecraft at JPL, so engineers had to test them one at a time.
Psyche is expected to launch no earlier than August 2022. About an hour after launch, the arrays will deploy and latch into place in a sequential process that will take 7 ½ minutes per array. They will then provide power for the journey to Psyche and for operating the three science instruments. In total, the solar arrays are 37 feet (11.3 meters) long. Only the three center panels can be deployed at JPL; the two cross panels on each wing are deployed using specialized equipment at Maxar Technologies in Palo Alto, California, where the arrays and spacecraft chassis were built. When they deploy fully in flight, the spacecraft will be about the size of a singles tennis court.
Psyche is scheduled to arrive at the asteroid in 2026 and spend nearly two years making increasingly close orbits. Scientists think asteroid Psyche could be part of the core of a planetesimal, the building block of an early rocky planet, which would provide a unique opportunity to study how planets like our own Earth formed.
For more information about NASA’s Psyche mission go to: nasa.gov/psyche and psyche.asu.edu/