Raumfahrt - Mission zur Metallwelt von Asteroid Psyche -Update-1


ASU completes site visit — a rather bland name for quite a daunting process — as NASA considers proposed Psyche mission

Getting a space mission selected by NASA is like running a high-tech obstacle race as hard as you can for years on end — and there’s no guarantee you’ll win or even place in the final. 

After a grueling five-year pitch, a team of scientists — led by Lindy Elkins-Tanton, director of Arizona State University's School of Earth and Space Exploration — recently completed the official NASA “site visit” for a proposed space mission to the metal asteroid Psyche. This moves the team members one step closer to finding out if their mission will be selected for NASA’s Discovery Program.

Psyche is an asteroid made almost entirely of nickel-iron metal. It offers a unique look into the violent collisions that created Earth and the terrestrial planets. Going to Psyche would be a planetary first because no space mission has ever visited a world like it.

But does NASA think the mission can be done? That depends largely on the results of the official mission “site visit.” The name is bland, but the reality can be daunting to the scientists and engineers involved.  

A NASA site visit is an intense, highly technical, in-person review done by a select group of science, technical and industry experts. It is usually done at the institution that will actually manage the spacecraft. No detail is too small to delve into, and weaknesses in the mission’s concept, in its design, execution and science application are probed relentlessly. The reviewing team also assesses how well the mission personnel from different institutions work together under stress. 

While 30 NASA reviewers descended on Space Systems Loral (SSL) in Palo Alto, California, for the nine-hour site visit, including a tour of SSL’s high bay where the Psyche spacecraft would be built, the team made final preparations for its presentations, months in the making.

satellite manufacturing facility

Space System Loral’s satellite manufacturing facility in Palo Alto, California. Image courtesy of SSL


Elkins-Tanton, principal investigator of the Psyche mission, led the team of scientists, researchers and engineers from Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), SSL and several other universities and research institutions through the process.

“The most surprisingly thing about the site visit was its scale,” Elkins-Tanton said. “I thought it was overkill to start planning six months ahead, but it turns out that was almost not enough time. Presenting answers to these complex and technical questions about our mission really took the team of about 140 people many long and hard-worked days.”

For the site visit, the team delivered more than 400 pages of answers to NASA to further describe the details of the proposed mission to the asteroid Psyche, in addition to the formal in-person presentations to 30 NASA reviewers.

Jim Bell, planetary scientist in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and the mission’s deputy principal investigator, said as the team gathered for a pre-presentation pep talk, “Today is our first critical event. Our second is the launch.”

Behind the scenes on the day of the site visit, specialized teams in the rapid-response room prepped for last-minute and impromptu NASA questions, while event managers double-checked guest lists and A/V equipment, set out VIP place cards and handed out name badges.

“There was so much energy in the air,” Elkins-Tanton said.

Psyche — a window into planetary cores

Every world explored so far by humans has a surface of ice or rock or a mixture of the two, but their cores are thought to be metallic, including Earth’s. These cores, however, lie far below rocky mantles and crusts and are considered unreachable in our lifetimes.

Psyche, an asteroid that appears to be the exposed nickel-iron core of a protoplanet, one of the building blocks of the sun’s planetary system, may provide a window into those cores.

artist rendition of Psyche

Artist rendition of the surface of Psyche. Image courtesy of Peter Rubin/ASU


Psyche follows an orbit in the outer part of the main asteroid belt, at an average distance from the sun of about 279 million miles, or three times farther from the sun than Earth. It is about the size of the state of Massachusetts (about 150 miles in diameter) and dense (7,000 kg/m³).

The science goals of the Psyche mission are to understand the building blocks of planet formation and to explore firsthand a wholly new and unexplored type of world. The mission team seeks to determine whether Psyche is a protoplanetary core, how old it is, whether it formed in similar ways to the Earth’s core, and what its surface is like.

If the Psyche mission is chosen for flight, the spacecraft will likely launch in 2020 and travel to the asteroid using solar-electric propulsion. After a six-year cruise, the mission plan calls for 20 months spent in orbit around the asteroid, mapping it and studying its properties. 




For much of the team, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, taking many years to plan and many more years to reach its destination. Psyche science team member Timothy McCoy, geologist and curator of the Smithsonian Institution’s meteorite collection, told the NASA panel, “I’ve been working with meteorites for 25 years, and this will be my last mission.”

Mission instrument payload

The spacecraft's instrument payload includes magnetometers, multispectral imagers, a gamma ray and neutron spectrometer, and a radio-science experiment.

The multispectral imager, which will be led by the science team at ASU, provides high-resolution images using filters to discriminate between Psyche's metallic and silicate constituents. It consists of a pair of identical cameras designed to acquire geologic, compositional and topographic data. 

Psyche mission multispectral imager

Psyche mission multispectral imager.


The gamma ray and neutron spectrometer will detect, measure and map Psyche's elemental composition. The instrument is mounted on a 2-meter-long boom to distance the sensors from background radiation created by energetic particles interacting with the spacecraft and to provide an unobstructed field of view. The science team for this instrument is based at the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University.

The magnetometer, which is led by scientists at MIT and UCLA, is designed to detect and measure the remnant magnetic field of the asteroid. It is composed of two identical high-sensitivity magnetic field sensors located at the middle and outer end of the 2-meter boom.

The Psyche spacecraft will also use an X-band radio telecommunications system, led by scientists at MIT and JPL. This instrument will measure Psyche's gravity field and, when combined with topography derived from onboard imagery, will provide information on the interior structure of the asteroid.

The competition

The primary goal of NASA's Discovery Program is to launch numerous small missions with fast development schedules — each for a considerable cost savings compared with traditional larger missions; all while focusing on scientific investigations that complement larger planetary exploration. 

In September 2015, NASA selected the Psyche mission and four other mission concepts for refinement during the next year, as a first step in choosing one or possibly two of them for development and launch. Each mission received $3 million for a one-year study.

Along with the Psyche mission, the other four Discovery semifinalists include two missions to Venus, one to the Jupiter Trojan asteroids, and a space telescope designed to look for potentially hazardous asteroids. 

The Psyche mission team

“It’s unusual for people to come together from such different institutions — SSL, JPL, ASU and other universities and research organizations — and find a common culture that allows smooth communications and work. But we have done that,” Elkins-Tanton said..

“The culture we created allows anyone to speak up, and we’ve caught and solved several problems that would have gone by silently and caused trouble later, had the team members felt unable to stop the action and ask difficult questions. And we have fun together. That’s the real key.”

In addition to Elkins-Tanton, ASU School of Earth and Space Exploration scientists on the Psyche mission team include Bell (deputy principal investigator and co-investigator), Erik Asphaug (co-investigator) and David Williams (co-investigator).

group photo

The Psyche mission team at SSL. Photo courtesy of SSL


NASA’s JPL, managed by Caltech, is the managing organization and will build the spacecraft with industry partner SSL. JPL’s contribution to the Psyche mission team includes more than 75 people, led by project manager Henry Stone, project scientist Carol Polanskey, project systems engineer David Oh and deputy project manager Bob Mase. SSL contribution to the Psyche mission team includes more than 50 people led by SEP chassis deputy program manager Peter Lord and SEP chassis program manager Steve Scott.

Other co-investigators are David Bercovici (Yale University), Bruce Bills (JPL), Richard Binzel (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), William Bottke (Southwest Research Institute, or SwRI), Ralf Jaumann (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt), Insoo Jun (JPL), David Lawrence (Johns Hopkins University/Applied Physics Laboratory, or APL), Simon Marchi (SwRI), Timothy McCoy (Smithsonian Institution), Ryan Park (JPL), Patrick Peplowski (APL), Thomas Prettyman, (Planetary Science Institute), Carol Raymond (JPL), Chris Russell (UCLA), Benjamin Weiss (MIT), Dan Wenkert (JPL), Mark Wieczorek (Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris), and Maria Zuber (MIT).

With the site visit complete, the team then traveled to NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., earlier this month to present the Psyche mission to the head of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate and the Selection Official for the Discovery Program.

Quelle: ASU New American University


Update: 27.02.2017


NASA, Palo Alto satellite company team up to explore unique asteroid

Artistic rendition of Space Systems Loral’s spacecraft approaching the Psyche asteroid. The mission, part of NASA’s Discovery Program, is set to launch in 2023. (Peter Rubin/Arizona State University; Space Systems Loral and NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.)

PALO ALTO – Mention the word “asteroid” and you’ll probably think about the downfall of the dinosaurs, or perhaps Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck duking it out in the movie “Armageddon.”

Now, NASA and a Palo Alto-based satellite manufacturer are working to get a spacecraft to an asteroid before one gets to us.

Asteroid exploration has become one of NASA’s top goals, and Space Systems Loral will play a key role in an upcoming mission that will allow scientists to get research equipment to a unique asteroid to study its composition. It’s the company’s first major foray into the world of deep-space exploration.

NASA’s Discovery Program, aimed at improving our understanding of the solar system by exploring planets, moons and other celestial bodies, announced last month that it had selected two asteroid-centric missions — each with a $450 million price cap — to launch in the next decade. One of the missions involves sending a spacecraft to Psyche, an asteroid named after the Greek goddess of the soul that is made entirely of metal.

Scientists say metal asteroids are one of the last remaining things in our solar system that they have never seen up close.

“We’ve looked at rocky planets, gas giants, icy planets, rocky asteroids, comets — but never anything like this,” said Jim Bell, a professor of planetary science at Arizona State University, where a team of scientists is leading the Psyche mission. The scientists believe the asteroid may be the metal core of a planet that was stripped of its rocky outer layers when it was destroyed billions of years ago.

Asteroids — rocky space bodies that orbit the sun — range in size from 600 miles in diameter to dust particles. Like Psyche, most are in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. NASA estimates the belt contains between 1.1 million and 1.9 million asteroids larger than a half-mile in diameter, plus millions of smaller ones.

Lindy Elkins-Tanton, the Arizona team’s principal investigator, recently told Space News that visiting Psyche will allow scientists to “literally visit a planetary core — the only way that humankind ever can.” Psyche’s metallic iron and nickel composition is similar to Earth’s core, so studying the asteroid may help scientists understand how planets’ layers — such as cores and crusts — separate.

Bell, Elkins-Tanton’s second-in-command, will be in charge of obtaining color images of the asteroid and figuring out its surface geology from the images.


For Bell, Psyche represents the opportunity to study a world made of metal. “We don’t know what to expect regarding impact craters or tectonic features,” he said. “Our predictions are all over the map of Dr. Seuss-like landscapes.”

The mission, set to launch from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center in 2023, hopes to use data collected from the metallic asteroid to help scientists learn about how planets with cores like Psyche formed during the early days of our solar system.

Erik Asphaug, another investigator on the team, likens himself to “a kid in a candy store.” Like Bell, he yearns to understand the geology of an entirely metallic body: “Was there ever water on Psyche? Is there evidence for chemical processes? Plate tectonics?”

Added Bell: “We’re also trying to figure out what these kinds of asteroids are like, to inform us about others like it that could be a threat to Earth in the future.”

The Arizona team says it will take five to seven years for the mission’s spacecraft to get to the asteroid — which is 130 miles in diameter — and then it will spend one year collecting data as it orbits the asteroid.

Bell’s imaging camera, along with a gamma ray neutron detector to detect the asteroid’s composition and a magnetometer to detect its magnetic fields, will also be making the journey. Information will be relayed back via a radio antenna on the spacecraft that communicates with the deep-space network antennas on Earth.

The responsibility of building the shuttle-bus-size spacecraft that will travel to Psyche falls to Space Systems Loral, or SSL — a 60-year-old company that constructs and launches commercial communications satellites for companies such as Sirius XM and DirecTV.

When the company announced it was awarded the mission’s $127 million contract in early January, SSL President John Celli said “years of experience and success in building state-of-the-art spacecraft” positioned the company to contribute to the NASA mission.

The spacecraft will be built in conjunction with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, which will later integrate the scientific instruments and computer “brain.” Bob Mase, deputy project manager for the Psyche mission at JPL, called it a “tag-team effort that leverages both parties’ strengths.”

Harrison Pitman of Made In Space, a Mountain View company that manufactures technology for use in space, said that his company recognizes the importance of reaching resource-rich asteroids like Psyche.

Made In Space, which did not compete for the Psyche project contract, is working on another project aimed at traveling to an asteroid in deep space. The project involves using robotics to convert an asteroid into a self-propelled spacecraft that flies itself back to Earth’s orbit. Once in orbit, the asteroid can be mined for resources like rare metals that are unobtainable on Earth.

“We believe that the insights gained on this Psyche mission and similar missions will provide the groundwork necessary to successfully develop asteroid-mining operations like ours,” Pitman said.

The Psyche collaboration also marks a new trend at the nexus of scientific exploration and commercial production.

Al Tadros, a vice president at SSL who has been with the company for 28 years, said the firm has had to make some major adjustments to pull off the asteroid project — but is loving every minute of it.

“It’s a change from communication satellites, which are business- and profit-driven,” he said. “But like our commercial business, NASA projects demand low risk and on-time delivery.”

Tadros said SSL was chosen from more than 20 proposals following an initial selection process, vigorous oral evaluations and an on-site visit from 80 NASA reviewers.

“It’s pretty cool,” Tadros said with a laugh.


Quelle: Silicon Valley


Update: 3.04.2017


NASA, ASU Psyche mission will shed light on earth's core

NASA mission proposed by ASU SESE director is approved, features orbiter analyzing asteroid

Photo by Isabella Castillo | The State Press

"ASU and NASA are collaborating on a mission to the astroid Psyche." Illustration published Sunday, April 2, 2017.

A joint mission between NASA and ASU, approved in January, hopes to create a better understanding of the planetary cores through an orbiting spacecraft.

Proposed by Lindy Elkins-Tanton, director of the School of Earth and Space Exploration and principal investigator of the project, the mission involves sending an orbiter to a massive asteroid, known as Psyche, which is between Mars and Jupiter.

The mission's goal is to figure out what Psyche is composed of and discuss the implications of its findings. Present scientific understanding suggests Psyche is composed of nickel and iron, similar to the core of the earth.

“Psyche is a unique world in the solar system,” Elkins-Tanton said. “There’s only one large, fairly round object made of metal in our solar system, and it's Psyche. It’s thought to be the core of a very early planet. That’s our best hypothesis.” 

Given the immense heat and pressure at the center of the Earth, it is impossible to extensively analyze the core with current technology. Psyche presents a unique opportunity to gain insight into the planet's core.

“We’ve never visited a metal world,” Elkins-Tanton said. “We don’t know what happens when craters are formed — could some of the metal freeze before falling back? Fracture like glass? Will it look at all like a rocky world on the surface?”

Psyche was discovered in 1852 by Italian astronomer Annibale de Gasparis, but it wasn't until recent advances in telescope technology that its unusual qualities were able to be observed.

The orbiter will be powered by a Hall-effect thruster, utilizing solar electric propulsion.

“We’re following the NASA mission phase approach,” said Tess Calvert, ASU project manager for the Psyche mission. “There’s phase A-F, in phase B we’re doing preliminary design. It’s a big effort, when you’re building something like this.”

Calvert's work is mostly on the imager systems for the orbiter. The Psyche project is part of NASA's Discovery Program that is being managed by the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“It’s going to be a very exciting mission,” said Henry Stone, project manager for JPL. “We have an opportunity here to partner with principle investigator like (Elkins-Tanton), with all of her excitement and enthusiasm that she brings to it.”

The orbiter is expected to launch in 2023 after years of design and assembly, and it will take another 5 years to complete the trip. ASU is responsible for building the imaging device on the orbiter and NASA is assembling the launch vehicle, along with other third party developers. 

While many current students will graduate before seeing the mission launched, students will still have the opportunity to assist on the project through upcoming events and contests. One of which is a contest to draw Psyche accurately, as there are no high-resolution images of Psyche to date, which will be announced soon. 

Quelle: The State News


Update: 21.07.2017



image title

ASU-led Psyche mission boosts case for a deeper dive into space

ASU director touts case for space exploration before House committee.

Foundation Professor Lindy Elkins-Tanton goes to bat for space exploration at congressional subcommittee hearing 

In the week marking the sixth anniversary of the end of NASA’s Space Shuttle program, scientists continue to make the case for space.

Arizona State University’s Lindy Elkins-Tanton was among those calling on the U.S. government to re-energize its support of deep-space research at a hearing before the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology in Washington, D.C., on July 18.

Elkins-Tanton, Foundation Professor and director of ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration, took her place on the national stage to offer lawmakers a peek into the known-unknown and share reasons why expeditions like NASA’s ASU-led Psyche mission is critical to our future in space.



“Every time we do something in space it surprises us,” Elkins-Tanton told members of the committee. She emphasized the importance of creating a roadmap toward bigger, flagship missions through projects such as Psyche, noting, “We must try these smaller missions to find out where the biggest surprises are, and then put our money on making the big big discoveries.”

After 135 missions that helped construct the International Space Station and service various Spacelab missions, NASA ended its 30-year Space Shuttle program on July 21, 2011, with the completed landing of the shuttle Atlantis at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Many worried that the end of the program would bring U.S. space exploration and research to a halt. But six years after the fact, the program still inspires.

Psyche is unquestionably one of the most profound space projects ASU has embarked upon in recent years. But it is not the only mission with an ASU nameplate. On the road to discoveries, the university is involved in at least 15 other missions, all of which engage students in science and engineering. And there are some — including Psyche — that also involve student interns in education, outreach and art. It’s this intersection of interdisciplinary collaboration that Elkins-Tanton said is paramount to moving space exploration to the next level and what she and ASU President Michael Crow are working on through the new Interplanetary Initiative to get there.

As the principal investigator of the NASA Discovery Mission Psyche, Elkins-Tanton and her team are building plans — and a spacecraft — to journey to the asteroid Psyche starting August 2022. Discovered more than 165 years ago by Italian astronomer Annibale de Gasparis, Psyche is in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter — for comparison, about three times farther from the sun than the Earth is to the sun. The asteroid is believed to be composed of almost all metal and may be the core remnant of a small, early-formed planet.



The mission to Psyche is unique as a first-time exploration of a metal world. Through the added demonstration of the Deep Space Optical Communications instrument to test laser communications between deep space and Earth, scientists will be able to study habitability on Psyche and compare the asteroid’s composition to models for the Earth’s core.

Members of the House Science, Space and Technology group also heard from four other planetary experts, each of whom shared status updates on their respective exploratory missions, including the Mars Rover 2020 and the Europa Clipper, which is set to launch in 2022 to study Jupiter’s moon Europa for habitability.

All of the scientists that participated in the hearing touted the conclusions of the U.S. National Research Council’s Planetary Decadal Survey, which helps the government, researchers and scientists prioritize space-exploration quests and their funding. The study stressed the need for maintaining a balanced portfolio of small, medium and flagship missions in order to enable more discoveries and address bigger challenges both in space and on Earth.

Quelle: ASU Arizona State University


Update: 2.12.2017


Metal asteroid Psyche is all set for an early visit from NASA

Three times further away from the sun than the Earth lies an enormous lump of metal. Around 252km in diameter, the metallic “M-class” asteroid 16 Psyche is the target of NASA’s next mission to the belt of giant rocks that encircles the inner solar system. And the space agency now plans to visit it much sooner than originally planned.

Not only has the launch has been brought forward one year to the summer of 2022, but NASA’s scientists have also found a way to get to Psyche (pronounced SYKe-ee) much faster by taking a more efficient trajectory. The new route means the Psyche spacecraft won’t have to swing around the Earth to build up speed and won’t pass as close to the sun, so it needs less heat protection. It is now due to arrive in 2026, four years earlier than the original timeline.

The main aim of the journey to Psyshe is to gather more information about our own solar system. Psyche is one of many wandering members of the asteroid belt. Unlike the rest of its rocky neighbours, Psyche appears to be entirely made of nickel and iron, just like the Earth’s core. This, together with its size, has led to the theory that it might be the remains of the inside of a planet.

Asteroids are made up of primitive materials, leftovers from the dust cloud from which our solar system originated. Different types of asteroids resemble the various steps it took to form planets from this dust cloud. This means they reveal a lot about the origin and evolution of our solar systemScientists think Psyche could be what’s left of an exposed metal core of a planet very similar to Earth.

We actually derive much of our knowledge about asteroids and the evolution of planets from the study of meteorites. Many asteroids and comets are primitive protoplanetary bodies accumulated from the same dust cloud our solar system originates from. As these protoplanetary bodies collide, gravity pulls them together into ever-larger bodies. Eventually these bodies become big and hot enough to partially melt, allowing heavy materials such as iron to sink to the core – and lighter material such as silicon to rise to the surface. 

This process, known as differentiation, explains why Earth and other planets such as Mercury, Venus or Mars have an iron core and silicon-rich mantle and crust. The 16 Psyche asteroid is thought to be the leftover iron core of a planet stripped of its mantle in a giant collision.

But many questions regarding the formation of Psyche remain. How do you strip a planet of its mantle only leaving the core? Perhaps there is an alternative formation mechanism of an iron-rich body that does not involve differentiation? Psyche may once have been molten and, if so, did it cool from the inside out or from its surface to the core?

Also, Earth’s magnetic field comes from a liquid outer core circling around a solid inner core. Did these processes occur on Psyche and create a magnetic field? What elements other than iron accumulate in a core? And how does the surface geology of an iron body look compared to a rocky or icy body?

Avoiding collisions

There are other reasons for visiting asteroids. For one thing, possible collisions with Earth can have devastating effects. The impact of an 15km-wide asteroid approximately 65m years ago is linked to the extinction of the dinosaurs. And the explosion of the 30m-diameter Chelyabinsk asteroid over Russia in 2013 led to injuries and damage on the ground. We need to know as much as possible about the composition and physical make-up of asteroids to devise the best ways to defend our planet.

Asteroids also provide resources. Those containing water or other valuable materials may act as stepping stones for human exploration of the solar system. And asteroids crossing Earth’s orbit may become convenient targets for mining operations, providing materials that are running out on Earth and potentially taking environmentally detrimental extraction methods off Earth. Companies including Planetary Resources and countries like Luxembourg have already started to pursue these ideas in earnest.

The Psyche spacecraft will carry four instruments to gather as much information about the asteroid as it can: a camera, a gamma-ray spectrometer to record what chemical elements are there, a magnetometer, and a radio gravity experiment. The data these devices collect should help us work out if Psyche is the frozen core of a former planet or simply a lump of unmelted metal. If it is a core, then it might help us determine exactly what’s at the centre of our own planet.

Lindy Elkins-Tanton, the lead scientist of the mission, probably summarised it best: “We learn about inner space by visiting outer space”.

Quelle: The Conversation


Update: 1.01.2018


Lindy Elkins-Tanton to Lead NASA Mission to Psyche Asteroid

It could be the core of an early planet.


Across the solar system, between Mars and Jupiter, there’s a huge asteroid — a metal world unlike any we’ve ever seen before — and a woman is leading the NASA mission to reach it.

This asteroid, called Psyche, is roughly 140 miles in diameter, just under the width of Massachusetts. And unlike most asteroids, which are mainly rocky, Psyche is a massive chunk of nickel and iron. It might also be the core of an early planet. If that’s the case, it could unlock secrets about how the planets in our solar system came to be. Psyche is a big, shiny game-changer, and, in 2022, we will start the epic journey toward it, thanks to Lindy Elkins-Tanton, the mission’s principal investigator — a planetary scientist who totally rocks.

Elkins-Tanton is also the head of the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University. Working with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and spacecraft maker Space Systems Loral, ASU will lead the mission, also named Psyche, which was selected in January 2017 by NASA as part of its Discovery Program. Elkins-Tanton’s team included about 140 people during the proposal process, will involve around 250 folks in building the actual Psyche spacecraft, and will include upwards of 1,600 undergraduate and graduate students during the mission who will somehow be involved in the project.

The mission takes off in 2022 and will continue into 2027. The Psyche spacecraft is scheduled to reach the asteroid in 2026 and will orbit it for 21 months, delivering unprecedented findings and shedding light on our solar system’s early roots.

Elkins-Tanton answered Teen Vogue’s questions about the Psyche mission, the asteroid itself, and the significance a Hello Kitty quartet has to this “journey to a metal world.” Elkins-Tanton holds a PhD in geology and geophysics, an MS in geochemistry, and a BS in geology — all from MIT. It’s safe to say that she knows rocks, but Elkins-Tanton explains exactly why Psyche is so particularly captivating to scientists.

“If indeed Psyche is the core of an early small planet, then it will tell us about the building blocks of our own core. Earth’s core is the result of many smaller cores merging and mixing,” she says.

Humans can’t study earth’s core because of the intense heat and pressure that stop us from getting even remotely close to it. (Keep in mind that its core is a few thousand miles below your feet and Psyche is about three times as far away from the sun as we are — mind-blowingly far away.) The irony is not lost on Elkins-Tanton. “Isn’t it amazing that flying through space for three years to visit an asteroid is actually easier than digging into our own planet?”

Her team will help determine what Psyche actually looks like, too. So far, it’s only been seen as a mere dot in distant photos taken by the Hubble Space Telescope or in rudimentary models created by earthbound observatories. Scientists have created conceptualizations of what it might look like, but nothing is for certain.

“We have ideas, guesses, based on what we know about the chemistry and physics of asteroids, but we really don’t know! We will certainly be surprised, as we always are when we go to space,” Elkins-Tanton says. “We’ll see all the shapes and colors there are to see. We’ll also be able to use pairs of photos to create a topographic map that shows high and low points.”

While there’s no way to mine Psyche for use on earth now (it’s just too darn far away), the Psyche mission will certainly inform would-be space miners of what they’ll be getting into. Elkins-Tanton says, “We’ll be the first to show what the surface of a metal body looks like, and that will be a critical set of information for anyone who wants to land later on.”

Since asteroid mining is no longer the stuff of science fiction, as real asteroid mining companies are already testing their technologiesTeen Vogue asked Elkins-Tanton her thoughts regarding this shiny new field. “I think asteroid mining is in our future. Getting water and metals from asteroids, rather than having to lift them off the earth, would make planetary exploration much more possible,” she says. Just think: Asteroids could become fuel stops for spacecraft on their hectic commutes around the solar system!

“When we explore off the earth we have the chance to make a more positive, more inclusive society — we can dream big, and we can make it happen. I’d like to see protected areas and shared mining areas on asteroids,” she says. Asteroid mining could be a way for everyone to work together to make the world — and space — a better place.

To celebrate their efforts, Elkins-Tanton says she and several members of her team “actually got tattoos to celebrate being selected for flight.” Elkins-Tanton showed us her tattoo, which she drew herself, of the cross section of a planetesimal from the early solar system. Explaining why her tattoo is so meaningful, she says, “It’s the idea of the paper we wrote in 2011 that lead to the Psyche mission.”

Elkins-Tanton also gave advice for young women who want to get into planetary science and maybe lead their own NASA mission one day. “Go for it! The most obvious paths are either through math, physics, or earth and planetary science at college, or engineering if you’d like to build the spacecraft themselves. More importantly, you’ll need a second degree, a PhD for scientists and a PhD or master’s for engineers, after undergraduate college,” she says. Space-related careers are becoming more and more prevalent, she explained. “There are jobs in universities, and in the government, and in private companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Planet.”

If you want to get involved with the Psyche mission now, check out Twitter and Instagram. There is also plenty of Psyche-inspired artcreated by talented ASU students to get you motivated. Over time, Psyche will have more educational resources available. If you’re considering a career in planetary science, keep in mind that college students can apply to intern at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and some JPL interns will work on the Psyche mission.

Quelle: Condé Nast


Update: 23.02.2018


ASU team works with NASA to explore the asteroid Psyche in 2022

NASA selected the team to develop the first exploration of metal asteroid Psyche


ASU led-team Psyche, a first-of-its-kind mission to collect data from a fully metal asteroid, has finished the design of the spacecraft that is scheduled to launch in 2022.

The group was selected by NASA in January 2017 and is currently in the second of its six phases. Psyche is a fully metal asteroid currently orbiting between Mars and Jupiter and the namesake for the NASA mission. The mission will send out a robotic spacecraft in 2022, and it will arrive in 2026 to orbit the asteroid for 21 months while collecting data.

Principal Investigator Lindy Elkins-Tanton,  director of ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration, said the unique meteor is made out of the same material as the earth's core. 

Elkins-Tanton put together the team that pitched to NASA, going against other research teams looking to get funding for their own work. She said she focused on Psyche because given its earth core-like material, studying the asteroid could bring new information about Earth. 

“It’s the only large metal object in our solar system," Elkins-Tanton said. "There are a few other metal asteroids that look like they're smaller pieces, but we won't know for sure until we get there."

For this competition, the team composed the entire pitch — including where the mission is going, what the spacecraft will measure, how it will be measured, how much it costs and the length of the mission from start to finish. 

Altogether, the Psyche mission will cost $850 million.

Hannah Bercovici, a graduate student in the School of Earth and Space Exploration, said this mission is integral to understanding our own planet's core. Bercovici works in a research group led by ASU professor Jim Bell, Psyche's deputy principal investigator.

"The core of our planet is like 1,800 miles underneath the surface, and so that's impossible to get to," Bercovici said. "The deepest that humans have ever recorded is about seven and a half miles."

Psyche is by far the largest metal asteroid in our solar system, measuring 140 miles in diameter, if measured as a perfect sphere, and is a little less than 1 percent of the entire mass of the asteroid belt.

Along with a team of more than 200 people, project Psyche partnered with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and SSL to build the spacecraft chassis, which is the body of the spacecraft.

“We have eight standing meetings every week, and we have reviews every single week for different parts of the subsystem,” Elkins-Tanton said. “We also have an external standing review that comes and makes sure that we’re ready for the next phase and right now we’re in the formulation phase, and next were going to go into the phase of actually building the spacecraft.”

The body of the spacecraft is the size of a smart car and about as tall as a regulation basketball hoop. Including the solar panels, the spacecraft is 81 feet long – the size of a tennis court. 


The spacecraft uses an electric propulsion system that is powered by the solar panels. The body is equipped with instruments such as magnetometer, gamma ray and neutron spectrometer, a multispectral imager and an x-band radio telecommunications system. 

"The imager will be used to look at different rock components on the surface as well as any sulfites," said Steven Dibb, a graduate student also on Bell's team. "The gamma ray spectrometer will also allow us to determine the elemental composition of the surface."

David Williams, deputy lead for the spacecraft imager and an associate professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration, said that the spacecraft is similar to other discovery-class spacecrafts of its type, such as the Dawn mission.

"It's a solar powered spacecraft, it's going to use cold gas thrusters to move around and it's got what's called ion propulsion, where it uses xenon gas and it ionizes that gas to give it momentum to move through the solar system," Williams said.

Before launch, the thrusters will be sent to the Glenn Research Center in Ohio, where there is a vacuum chamber to test the propulsion system in a space-like environment.

Beyond bringing new research about the asteroid, the Psyche mission is bringing an opportunity for younger researchers to get involved. 

"Part of what NASA really wants to do is make sure that we're educating our youth about the importance of science and the importance of space exploration," Karin Valentine, a spokesperson for the School of Earth and Space Exploration said. "Psyche is part of that overall goal for NASA to help people become involved in missions that we're doing as a country."

Quelle: The State Press






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