The Psyche probe accelerates towards its asteroid and tests its new capabilities


Eric Bottlaender

Space specialist

May 28, 2024 at 8:02 a.m.

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Artist's impression of the Psyche probe above its asteroid (which bears the same name) © NASA

Artist’s impression of the Psyche probe above its asteroid (which bears the same name) © NASA

Six months after its successful takeoff, the American probe Psyche is heading towards the asteroid of the same name. It won’t get there until 2029, but it has only just started to accelerate thanks to its ion propulsion, while it continues its laser communications tests.

On a good part of the Solar System exploration missions, the period of the first 6 months is relatively intense, and for Psyche, this was the case. First, it was necessary to document the state of the probe’s critical systems, then its various instruments, with different batteries of tests.

The takeoff on October 13 with Falcon Heavy went very well, so the teams quickly transferred their efforts to the first experiments to be validated, such as the laser data link (with a cat video), which tests very high speed transmissions to Earth for the first time. Since the beginning of May, the first test period for Psyche has been completed, and the probe is located 300 million kilometers from Earth, flying at a relative speed of 135,000 km/h. The fact remains that to achieve its objective, it will be necessary to accelerate: it was able to turn on its electric ionic thrusters for its first long period.

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Decryption

Psyche will accelerate

The latter only offer a tiny thrust, which is measured in millinewtons, but it is applied continuously and in a vacuum, which allows over very long periods (the ignitions last several months) to very effectively accelerate Psyche, while being very economical.

The electric ion engines are indeed very efficient, and the 922 kilos of Xenon in the probe’s tanks will allow it to reach a high speed (more than 200,000 km/h compared to Earth). However, it is also a question of precision. To save time and reach its asteroid, Psyche must fly over Mars at an altitude of less than 3,000 kilometers in May 2026. It will be a question of being on time!

The cat video which serves as a test bench for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory teams to test the laser video link from deep space © NASA / JPL-Caltech

The cat video which serves as a test bench for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory teams to test the laser video link from deep space © NASA / JPL-Caltech

Videos of cats increasingly distant

The University of Arizona, which is overseeing the scientific part of the mission, is so far particularly happy with the first results. Everything seems on track to study the large asteroid Psyche and its 280 kilometers in diameter, which is believed to be particularly rich in metals.

The probe did not fail, during its qualification, to record interesting data by passing through recent solar storms without suffering damage. All that remains is to wait and hope that the propulsion system does not have hiccups like that of the BepiColombo mission with its own electric ion thrusters.

Source : NASA

Eric Bottlaender

Eric Bottlaender

Space specialist

Space specialist

I am a space writer! Engineer and space specialist, I have been writing and sharing my passion for space exploration since 2014 (articles, print media, CNES, books). Don't hesitate to ask me...

Read other articles

I am a space writer! Engineer and space specialist, I have been writing and sharing my passion for space exploration since 2014 (articles, print media, CNES, books). Do not hesitate to ask me questions !

Read other articles





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