NASA's Psyche fires up its sci-fi worthy thrusters

May 30, 2024
The spacecraft already is beyond the distance of Mars and is using ion propulsion to accelerate toward a metal-rich asteroid, where it will orbit and collect science data, NASA's JPL reports.

WASHINGTON - NASA’s Psyche spacecraft passed its six-month checkup with a clean bill of health, and there’s no holding back now. Navigators are firing its futuristic-looking electric thrusters, which emit a blue glow, nearly nonstop as the orbiter zips farther into deep space, NASA's JPL reports. Continue reading original article.

The Military & Aerospace Electronics take:

30 May 2024 - The spacecraft launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on October 13, 2023, atop a SpaceX Falcon Heavy. After leaving Earth's atmosphere, Psyche utilized its rocket boost to coast beyond Mars' orbit.

For the next year, Psyche will enter what mission planners refer to as "full cruise" mode. During this phase, its electric thrusters will propel it toward the asteroid belt by expelling charged xenon ions, which produce a distinctive blue glow.

These thrusters are part of Psyche’s solar electric propulsion system, which is powered by sunlight. The ionized xenon provides a gentle thrust, roughly equivalent to the pressure of holding three-quarters in your hand. Currently, the spacecraft is over 190 million miles (300 million kilometers) from Earth, traveling at 23 miles per second (37 kilometers per second), or about 84,000 mph (135,000 kph). Without atmospheric drag, Psyche will gradually accelerate to speeds up to 124,000 mph (200,000 kph).

Psyche is expected to reach the metal-rich asteroid of the same name in 2029 and will spend about two years orbiting and gathering data. This information will help scientists understand the formation of rocky planets with metallic cores, such as Earth. The asteroid, approximately 173 miles (280 kilometers) wide, may be the partial core of a planetesimal, a building block of an early planet.

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Jamie Whitney, Senior Editor
Military + Aerospace Electronics

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