NASA’s Psyche spacecraft took another step closer on its upcoming journey to a metal-rich asteroid of the same name. On Aug. 14, a team of technicians and engineers moved the spacecraft from Building 1 to Building 9 at Astrotech Space Operations facility near the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Inside Building 9, technicians will load about one metric ton of xenon gas into seven 22-gallon tanks inside the spacecraft.
Psyche’s solar electric propulsion will use large solar arrays to convert sunlight into electricity, which will power four Hall thrusters. The thrusters will use electric and magnetic fields to accelerate and expel charged xenon particles, or ions, to create thrust and propel the spacecraft to its destination after launch. The thrusters will operate one at a time and will have a blue glow from the xenon.
Psyche is targeted to launch Oct. 5 atop a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy. After launch, Psyche is set to arrive at the asteroid in July 2029, where it will spend 26 months gathering observations that will help scientists learn more about planetary formation.
In addition to its primary mission, Psyche has NASA’s Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) technology demonstration onboard the spacecraft. DSOC will be the agency’s first demonstration of optical communication beyond the Moon. DSOC will send test data to and from Earth using an invisible near-infrared laser, which has much higher bandwidth than radio wave systems currently used on spacecraft.
NASA’s Psyche spacecraft has completed another milestone. Solar arrays are now ready to power the spacecraft on a 2.5-billion-mile (4-billion-kilometer) journey to a metal-rich asteroid to help us learn more about planet formation. A team of engineers and technicians received, prepared, and installed the solar arrays on the spacecraft at the Astrotech Space Operations Facility near the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA and Rocket Lab are targeting no earlier than 1:30 a.m. EDT (5:30 p.m. NZST) Monday, May 22, for the launch of the agency’s TROPICS (Time-Resolved Observations of Precipitation structure and storm Intensity with a Constellation of Smallsats) mission, on an Electron rocket from Launch Complex 1 in Māhia, New Zealand.
The launch will place a pair of CubeSats in low Earth orbit, and they will join another pair of TROPICS satellites that made it to orbit last week after launching on an Electron rocket from New Zealand. Together the four satellites will orbit in two equally spaced orbital planes, which will distribute them for optimal coverage over the tropics. The orbiting TROPICS constellation of satellites will study the formation and development of tropical cyclones, known as hurricanes in the Atlantic and typhoons in the West Pacific, making observations of temperature, precipitation, water vapor, and cloud ice more often than what is possible with current weather satellites. They they will join the TROPICS Pathfinder satellite, in orbit since its launch in June of 2021.
Team members successfully sent commands to the first CubeSat at 1:48 a.m. EDT, May 8. Subsequently, they established communications with the second CubeSat at 6:31 a.m. EDT. Read the NASA release here.
Two TROPICS CubeSats successfully deployed from a Rocket Lab Electron rocket after launch.
The team is working toward signal acquisition from the pair of TROPICS CubeSats. NASA will continue to assess data from periodic pass opportunities. It is not unexpected for CubeSats to take some time to establish communications. We will provide confirmation when signal is acquired.
The second pair of TROPICS CubeSats is planned to launch aboard another Rocket Lab Electron rocket, named Coming To A Storm Near You, in about two weeks from Launch Complex 1 at Māhia, New Zealand.
Follow launch updates on this blog and stay connected with the mission on social media. This concludes our coverage of this launch.
NASA’s TROPICS CubeSats are expected to have deployed from the Rocket Lab’s Electron kick stage. The two CubeSats will reach low-Earth orbit to begin their mission.
Each of the CubeSats was designed to last approximately two years, but analysis, lifetime testing of key parts, and on-orbit experiences with similar hardware could help the satellites surpass their design lifetime.
Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket lifts off from Launch Complex 1 at Māhia, New Zealand at 9:00 p.m., carrying two TROPICS CubeSats for NASA.
A series of milestones will occur within several minutes after launch. The rocket will reach MaxQ, which is the speed at which the vehicle reaches its maximum dynamic pressure. Electron’s first stage main engines will cut off, followed by separation from the second stage. The payload fairing surrounding TROPICS will jettison.