October 16, 2023

Psyche launched

On 13 October 2023, at 16:19 (CEST), the Psyche spacecraft was launched on a Falcon Heavy rocket from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Psyche is now on its long journey to the asteroid of the same name, Psyche, and will enter orbit around the asteroid in August 2029. Lindy Elkins-Tanton from Arizona State University (ASU) is the scientific director of the mission, while NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is managing the mission. Three instruments are on board the spacecraft: the Psyche Multispectral Imager (PMI) from ASU, a Psyche Gamma-Ray and Neutron Spectrometer from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHUAPL) and a magnetometer from TU Denmark. The Institute of Planetary Research is involved in the scientific planning and analysis of the image data. The focus will be on calculating the shape of Psyche and mapping the asteroid.

Psyche was the 16th asteroid to be discovered and differs from all other asteroids studied so far in that it consists largely of metal. It is possibly the leftover core of a planet that was partially destroyed in the course of its evolution. After its arrival, Psyche will fly around the asteroid at four different orbital altitudes. First, a global characterisation will be done. Then it will go a little lower to photograph the illuminated part with the camera, and then go even lower so that the particle detector and magnetometer can examine Psyche from close up. At the very end, we go a little higher again to photograph the parts that were in the dark at the beginning. These different orbits will take a total of about 26 months.

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