The Psyche Spacecraft and Science Instruments

Engineers and technicians from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California perform final assembly, test, and launch operations on the Psyche spacecraft in a clean room on June 26, 2023, at the Astrotech Space Operations facility near Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Engineers and technicians from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California perform final assembly, test, and launch operations on the Psyche spacecraft in a clean room on June 26, 2023, at the Astrotech Space Operations facility near Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo credit: NASA/Frank Michaux

The Psyche spacecraft will launch weighing over 6,000 pounds, with its body, or bus, spanning 16.1 feet tall, including the 6.6-foot booms for two instruments, 7.1 feet wide, and 7.8 feet deep. With its two five-panel, cross-shaped solar panels fully deployed, Psyche would just about cover a tennis court at 81 feet by 24 feet. The solar arrays will produce 21 kilowatts of power when leaving the Earth and between 2.3 and 3.4 kilowatts of power during orbit around the asteroid.

The Psyche spacecraft carries multiple science instruments that will help scientists learn more about the metal-rich asteroid:

  • Psyche’s multispectral imager consists of a pair of identical cameras equipped with filters and telescopic lenses to photograph the surface of the asteroid in different wavelengths of light. The cameras can take pictures in the part of the spectrum visible to the human eye, as well as in near-infrared wavelengths of light beyond what humans can see.
  • The probe’s gamma-ray and neutron spectrometer will help scientists determine the chemical elements that make up the asteroid’s surface material. As cosmic rays and high energy particles bombard the asteroid Psyche’s surface, the elements there absorb the energy. In response, they emit neutrons and gamma rays of varying energy levels. The spectrometer can detect these emissions, enabling scientists to match them to properties of known elements to determine what Psyche is made of.
  • The spacecraft’s magnetometer will look for evidence of an ancient magnetic field at the asteroid Psyche. Unlike Earth and other rocky planets that generate a magnetic field in their liquid metallic cores, small bodies such as asteroids do not generate one at the present time because they have cooled and long been solid. Confirmation of a remanent magnetic field at Psyche would be strong evidence that the asteroid formed from the core of a planetary body.
  • The Psyche science team will rely on the telecommunications system, primarily used to send commands to and receive data from the spacecraft, to conduct gravity science. By analyzing the X-band radio waves the spacecraft communicates with, scientists can measure how asteroid Psyche affects the spacecraft’s orbit. From that information, scientists can determine the asteroid’s rotation, mass, and gravity field, providing additional clues about the composition and structure of Psyche’s interior.

The Psyche spacecraft also will carry an experiment that will demonstrate NASA’s farthest-ever test of high-bandwidth optical communications. NASA’s Deep Space Optical Communications experiment, or DSOC, will send and receive test data using an invisible near-infrared laser, which can transmit data at 10 to 100 times the bandwidth of conventional radio wave systems used on spacecraft today. The DSOC technology demonstration takes place during the first two years of the roughly six-year journey to Psyche. As the first demonstration of deep space laser communications, DSOC could pave the way for broadband communications that will help support humanity’s next great leap: when NASA sends astronauts to Mars.

Liftoff is targeted for just over an hour from now, at 10:19 a.m. EDT, on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

To learn more about the Psyche mission, visit:

https://www.nasa.gov/psyche

To learn more about the DSOC demonstration, visit:

https://www.nasa.gov/mission/deep-space-optical-communications-dsoc/