The Orbital Index is a curated newsletter about space and the space industry.

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# The Orbital Index

Issue No. 138 | Oct 13, 2021

🚀 🌍 🛰

 Guest ContributionA Journey to a Metal-rich World. Orbiting between Mars and Jupiter lies a large asteroid, averaging 225 km in diameter (and shaped like a potato! 🥔) and made largely (30-60%) of metal—its size and composition make it unique in our solar system. This is Psyche, a mysterious world full of questions. How was it created? What is the connection between it and the other planets? What does a metal-rich surface look like? Dr. Lindy Elkins-Tanton at Arizona State University, principal investigator of the Psyche mission, leads a team that’s aiming to solve the mystery of how Psyche was created. Scientists suspect that Psyche is a stripped core of a planetesimal: a metal core left floating in space after collisions stripped at least some of the rocky mantle surrounding it. Whether Psyche is part of a differentiated planetesimal (one that melted and formed a metal core and rocky exterior), or if its components never melted and are still intimately mixed, Psyche represents a sample of the building blocks of planets. By exploring Psyche, we will be looking back to the creation of our solar system, and we may even peer inside the rocky planets we know in the present day by directly examining a possible core-mantle boundary. The Psyche mission was selected along with its sister mission Lucy as the 14th mission in NASA’s Discovery program. The Psyche spacecraft is jointly built; its body, the Solar Electric Propulsion chassis, comes from Maxar Technologies, but its brains, the main computer and software, come from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The combined Maxar-JPL team is integrating and testing the spacecraft right now in JPL’s High Bay 2 in Pasadena, CA. The spacecraft will launch next August from Kennedy Space Center on a Falcon Heavy and will travel to the outer asteroid belt using Hall Effect thrusters, a technology that turns solar power into thrust by ionizing xenon gas and expelling it at high velocity (cf. ion propulsion!). The spacecraft will get a gravity assist from Mars in May 2023 and will enter orbit around Psyche in January 2026. There it will use its instruments to measure Psyche’s magnetic field, determine its elemental composition, measure its internal structure, and take the first pictures of a metal-rich world. Psyche continues the legacy of NASA’s Discovery program by being the first mission to explore a metal-rich world and the first mission to use Hall Effect thrusters beyond the Earth-Moon system. — David Oh is a Principal Systems Engineer at NASA’s JPL and is the Project Systems Engineering Manager and Engineering Technical Authority for the Psyche mission.
 Spacecraft are the ultimate in function over form, which means every part has a purpose and every design has a story. Learn why the Psyche spacecraft (above) has its unique appearance on the Psyche mission blog. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.
 News in brief. Lucy is launching on the 16th to start its 12+ year mission to study the Trojan asteroids (see Issue No. 130) ● Tomorrow.io won a $19.3 million contract from the US Air Force to continue developing a constellation of 32 weather satellites ● William Shatner is headed to space today on New Shepard—at 90, he is now the oldest person to reach space ● The UAE Space Agency announced an ambitious 2028 mission to land a spacecraft on a main belt asteroid via gravity assists from Venus and Earth ● NASA reshuffled commercial crew astronaut assignments because of Starliner delays, shifting from Starliner’s eventual first crewed flight to SpaceX’s Crew-5 mission—meanwhile, all but one of Starliner’s stuck valves are moving again and they believe the root cause is probably “oxidizer and moisture interactions”, with an uncrewed test flight likely in the “first half of 2022” ● NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test mission, in which a kinetic impactor will strike the asteroid moon Dimorphos, now has a launch date of Nov. 23rd from Vandenberg SFB (cf. Issue 71) ● China’s Chang'e 4 lander and Yutu 2 rover reached 1,000 (Earth) days on the Moon, going strong and far surpassing the previous 321 day record for the working lifespan of a rover on the Moon which was held by Russia’s Lunokhod-1 rover ● Rocket Lab is acquiring Advance Solutions, an aerospace software company, for$40M ● SLS has passed NASA’s final design certification review, clearing the way for an eventual launch of Artemis I in the first half of next year.