As 2022 approaches, the ASU (Arizona State University),-led team responsible for NASA Psyche’s spacecraft is preparing to conduct thermal vacuum tests in preparation for launch. Psyche, a first-of its kind mission to orbit an M Type asteroid is scheduled to launch on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy booster in August.
Following a three-and-a-half-year transit through the inner solar system, Psyche will enter into orbit of the main asteroid belt object, 16 Psyche. Despite a solar array issue, Lucy, its sister mission, is still making its first flyby of Earth. Both missions are under NASA’s Discovery program.
Psyche was Chosen as a finalist for 2015To be part of the Discovery program. January 2017, It was chosen as the 14th mission of the program. Lucy was also selected to participate in the 13th Discovery mission.
After being selected NASA, the Psyche Team began finalizing the design for the spacecraft and mission. The preliminary design was completed by the team in March 2019. NASA approved the design in May 2019. This allowed the team to start instrument and spacecraft construction.
The Psyche spacecraft is based on this concept. Maxars 1300-class spacecraft platform. Maxars 1300 platform offers a proven modular satellite bus designed for use mainly in GEO. The 1300 platform was used on multiple missions, including NASA’s OSAM-1 (On Orbit Servicing, Assembly and Manufacturing), and NOAAs third generation GOES weather satellites.
Psyche was the first interplanetary mission to be conducted on a spacecraft based upon the 1300 satellite bus.
The spacecraft bus will measure 3.1 m long by 2.4 m wide. When fully deployed, the spacecraft will be 24.76 meters long by 7.34 meters wide–about the same size as a tennis court. Powering the spacecraft will come from two medium-sized solar panels.
A set of seven instruments will allow 16 Psyche to conduct science.
An X band antenna will also be used to measure different parts 16 Psyche. The teams will also use topography derived using the onboard imagery from the spacecraft to determine the interior structure of 16 Psyche and the gravity field. The team that works on radio science is based in Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and NASA’s JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory)
The X band antenna and the Deep Space Network (DSN) will be used for the initial orbit of Psyche. These radio waves will be used to study the gravity field. The shape of 16 Psyche, which appears lumpy and wider on one end, is one of its greatest mysteries. The gravity field can be used to unravel the mystery of how 16 Psyche is shaped.
An experimental laser communications system called DSOC, or Deep Space Optical Communications, will be used to communicate with Earth. The DSOC is a novel technology that uses light photons to communicate instead of radio waves. Because of the limited time available to the spacecraft, and the ground, light photos will be able to communicate more data. JPL will provide DSOC.
Psyche will use a multispectral imaging instrument to provide imagery. The imager will include a pair identical cameras. The cameras will use filters in order to distinguish between the silicate and metallic components of 16 Psyche. The second camera is used for optical navigation mission-critical redundancy. While in orbit, the cameras will capture topographic, compositional, geologic and geochemical data. ASU is the home of the team responsible for developing the imager.
A pair of booms measuring two meters will be placed on top to support another set. Booms are used for creating distance between the sensors as well as from background radiation caused by the spacecraft’s energetic particles reacting. It will also allow for a clear field of view.
To detect, measure and map 16 Psyches elements, a Gamma Ray spectrometer and a Neutron spectrometer are placed on one of these booms. These are provided at Johns Hopkins University by the APL (Applied Physics Laboratory).
Here we are! #PsycheMissions GRNS flight hardware is gone @JHUAPLHead for @NASAJPLIt will then undergo final tests before it heads to space. It will determine the elemental composition and reveal if it is part of a planetary core. pic.twitter.com/hFns0ocoZV
— Thomas Zurbuchen (@Dr_ThomasZ) August 4, 2021
The magnetometer will be located at the outer and middle ends of the second boom. This instrument will include two identical high-sensitivity magnetic fields sensors to measure and detect the remnant magnetic field of 16 Psyche. The instrument is provided by MIT (Technical University of Denmark) and DTU (Technical University of Denmark).
This mission used a Maxar 1300 bus. It was based on the SEP Chassis, which is the lightest and most compact graphite bus for the 1300 bus. JPL received the bus on March 20, 2021. JPL was able to start testing the Psyche spacecraft and final assembly after the delivery.
All instruments, except the spectrometer/imager, were integrated with spacecraft by the one-year mark from launch. The spectrometers arrived from APL in September 2021 to be installed.
Psyche started pre-launch testing after all the instruments were installed. Psyche was placed at JPL in a thermal vacuum chamber. A thermal vacuum chamber simulates deep space.
Psyche will be tested in this chamber for several weeks. After it passes this testing, it will be subject to vibration testing in an acoustic chamber. This is similar to the launch of Psyche.
The final testing will include electromagnetic interference (EMI) and electromagnetic compatibility testing. The Operations Readiness Review will be conducted by Psyche to ensure that all teams are ready to launch and deliver. After the testing is completed, the team will conduct the Key Decision Point (E) to determine the readiness of the team for post-launch operations.
The spacecraft will then be packed up and shipped to KSC (Kennedy Space Center) for final preparations in May 2022. After being checked, the spacecraft will be loaded with propellant for launch. The spacecraft will then be attached to SpaceX’s Falcon Heavys payload adapter, and encapsulated within its 5.2-meter payload fairing.
Once the payload has been encapsulated, it will be attached to Falcon Heavy and rolled to launch site at LC-39A (Launch Complex 39A). Launch is currently scheduled to occur at NET (noearlier-than), August 1, 2022. A liftoff on that date would be around 2 PM ET (18:00 UTC).
The Falcon Heavys side boosters will attempt landing shortly after launch. They will land at Landing Zone 1 or 2, depending on the return to Cape Canaveral launch site. These boosters will be used on NASA’s Europa Clipper mission in Oct 2024. The Center Core will most likely attempt to land on one SpaceX Droneship in the Atlantic Ocean.
The Falcon Heavy will send Psyche on a trajectory to fly by Mars for a gravity assistance. The Mars gravity assist will occur in May 2023, with the spacecraft approximately 500 km from the Martian surface.
Psyche will use a pair of SPT-140 (Stationary Plasma Thruster), SEP (Solar Electric Propulsion), thrusters to provide propulsion for the spacecraft. SEP thrusters will allow Psyche propel itself better than conventional chemical thrusters, while using less fuel.
The SPT-140 thrusters will propel the spacecraft to 16 Psyche on January 31, 2026. It will then orbit the asteroid. Once in orbit Psyche will begin its four orbit phases to study 16 Psyche.
Orbit A is the first phase. It is located at 700 km above the sea level. This orbit is where 16 Psyche will begin their general characteristics research. Psyche will remain in the orbit for 56 or 41 days.
Psyche will use its thrusters to reach the surface during a 21-month observation period after the Orbit A time. Psyche will be able to observe the surface with greater accuracy and better resolution if it is closer.
After a series orbit lowerings, Psyche will enter Orbit B. This is an altitude of 290km. Orbit B allows the topography of 16 Psyche’s surface to be recorded. Orbit B will keep Psyche in orbit for 80 days, or 169 orbits.
Next series of orbit lowerings will place Psyche on an orbit of 170km for Orbit C. Orbit C’s main focus is Gravity Science at 16 Psyche. Orbit C operations will last 100 days, or 362 orbits.
Orbit D, at 85 km altitude, is the last planned operational orbit. Compared to the other orbits, Orbit D will be in a polar orbit–unlike the retrograde orbit of the other phases. Orbit D will concentrate on elemental mapping for 16 Psyche.
Orbit D operations will last 100 days, or 684 orbits. Psyche’s primary mission will end at this point. Psyche can continue its mission to study the asteroid, as long as the spacecraft is healthy.
The M-Type asteroid’s composition is mainly made of metal. 16 Psyche was the 16th asteroid discovered. It was discovered by Annibale De Gasparis, an Italian Astronomer, in 1852. It was named after the goddess Soul in Greek Mythology. It is the largest M Type asteroid ever to be discovered.
16 Psyche currently orbits at an average orbit of 3 AU (Astronomical Units), whereas Earth orbits around 1 AU. A day is four hours long and 12 minutes long, while a year lasts five Earth-years.
It is a fairly large asteroid and its irregular shape doesn’t make it spherical. It measures 279 km by 232 km by 189km. It is nearly as long on Earth as the entire state Massachusetts.
Scientists will be able to study the asteroid and learn more about how the solar system formed. It was initially believed that 16 Psyche was composed of manly metal, but it now appears to be a mixture of rock and metal.
Scientists believe 16 Psyche is composed of a mainly metallic core of a planetesimal. This is the building block of terrestrial planets. 16 Psyche allows us to see the core of a planet without any obstructions.
The Psyche Mission will be able prove many things about the asteroid. Its main goals are to determine its age, determine if 16 Psyche has a planetesimal center, record its topography and understand 16 Psyche’s oxidation compared with Earths core.
Update Lucy and Janus overview
At the same time as Psyches selection into the Discovery class, Lucy–the 13th mission–was selected. Lucy, the sister mission to Psyche and the most recent Discovery mission launched into space, is Lucy.
Lucy was launched aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 401 just before the launch window closed on October 16, 2021. After a successful launch, Lucy was able to open its two circular solar arrays to generate power.
The first solar array was fully operational, but the second one was only 75-95% fully deployed. NASA discovered during ground testing, that The failure was most likely due to the lanyard that was used to open the array not working as intended.. Since then, NASA has been testing ground methods to open the solar array fully.
Despite this, enough power is still being generated by the solar array to not affect the primary mission. The spacecraft is still in cruise mode and is on its way to an October 2022 first Earth flyby. All instruments were turned on and checked out in November 2021.
One of Lucys’ cameras captured its first image from space during that time. After the completion of this task, the instruments were shut down and the Lucy spacecraft, which is now operating nominally, has no solar array.
Although it may not seem like much, this photo is one of the first images that was returned by the #LucyMissionFrom space! Lucy’s Terminal Tracking Camera is responsible for the star field. All Lucy’s science instruments passed with flying colors their preliminary tests! pic.twitter.com/Z48gGXK0RB
— Lucy Mission (@LucyMission) November 9, 2021
It will fly by Earth in 2022 and then fly by again in December 2024. Then it will continue its journey to study Jupiters trojan asteroids.
Falcon Heavy also launches two identical CubeSats in tandem with the Psyche spacecraft. The twin CubeSats, which will be launched by CU (the University of Colorado Boulder), will be named Janus after the Roman god of beginnings or passages. The mission’s objective is to study binary asteroids.
Janus is part of NASA’s SIMPLEx (Small Innovative Missions for Planetary Exploration). SIMPLEx is a program that allows small satellites to be launched at less than 400kg to carry out planetary exploration and gather information to support other programs.
SIMPLEx is planning a future mission that includes the EscaPADE spacecraft (Escape and Plasma Acceration and Dynamic Explorer). A and B. EscaPADE are two Rocket Lab Photon spacecraft that will orbit Mars to study its atmosphere and magnetosphere. This mission was originally planned to launch with Janus and Psyche, but was moved to a 2024 launch.
Lockheed Martin built the Janus spacecraft using three solar arrays and a monopropellant MiPS, which is a micro-propulsion system that uses LMP-103S green propellant. Each spacecraft weighs 36kg and is equipped with visible and infrared spectrum cameras.
Janus is the CubeSat’s longest deep-space exploration mission. After the launch Janus A/B will flyby Earth in 2023. This will allow the spacecraft to flyby two binary asteroids, 1996 FG3 (and 1991 VH) respectively. This will allow twin spacecraft to observe the asteroids and model them. The Janus mission is expected last for four more years.
NASA has recently been focusing on studies on asteroids. This is mainly because they allow us to see into the past of our solar systems, but also because they pose a risk to Earth. NASA’s Double-Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), was recently launched to evaluate a kinetic impact to redirect for planet safety. NASA approved the NEO Surveyor (Near-Earth Object), in June 2021. This surveyor is used to detect objects near Earth that could pose a danger to life on Earth.
Lead Image: NASAs Psyche spacecraft during system installation at JPL. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech