NASA Is Sending a Spaceship to a Metal World Called 16 Psyche

these images have been captured with the spectro polarimetric high contrast exoplanet research sphere instrument on eso’s very large telescope as part of a programme that surveyed 42 of the largest asteroids in our solar system they show ausonia and urania, the two smallest objects imaged, each approximately 90 kilometres in diameter
NASA Is Headed to Metal-Rich Asteroid '16 Psyche'Wikimedia Commons
  • NASA’s 16 Psyche mission is back on, with an expected launch late this year.

  • Psyche is a metal-rich asteroid, about 140 miles in diameter.

  • The mining potential of the metallic 16 Psyche is unlike any other NASA mission.

Somewhere out in space between Mars and Jupiter, the asteroid 16 Psyche orbits the sun. And NASA is headed there soon. The mission offers the opportunity to explore the science—and possible mining potential—of a wildly metal-rich asteroid.

Shaped like a potato, the 140-mile diameter asteroid may be the remnant of a core of a shattered planet. Getting to the core of planets isn’t easy, with so many layers of mantle and crust surrounding what is often the metal-heavy center. Researchers believe 16 Psyche may be what’s left after a space collision stripped off the outer layers, leaving this potential core intact about 235 million to 309 million miles from the sun.

NASA originally planned to send its Psyche spacecraft to the rock last year, but a delay in software components for the spacecraft has pushed the mission launch out to this October, via a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket.

Once NASA gets the spaceship close to the asteroid, likely at least four years from launch, the agency plans to study it using a suite of instruments, from multispectral cameras to Gamma Ray and neutron spectrometers and magnetometers. The spacecraft will communicate with Earth using a high-gain antenna.

NASA says the opportunity to inspect 16 Psyche may offer a bit of insight into the core of Earth. Scientists are hoping to find a magnetic field, which would indicate the past life as the core of a planet. But even beyond that, NASA is pretty much just intrigued about the possibility of exploring a metal-rich asteroid up close.

And there’s another intoxicating component of such a large hunk of iron and nickel: it’s a large hunk of metal and nickel.

In 2020, NASA’s Lindy Elkins-Tanton said the metal could be worth $10,000 quadrillion, since there could be plenty of other valuable metals, such as gold, platinum, iridium, and more, along with the iron and nickel. That’s about $30 billion for every American citizen, as Luxury Launches points out. Let’s get to mining!

Sadly, we don’t really know how to do that—yet—and it isn’t the focus of the mission anyway. So we may just have to leave the allure of the metal’s value on the table and focus on the science ... for now.

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