Nasa’s mission to explore a metal-rich asteroid passed a key milestone in its development this week. The critical design review makes sure everyone is satisfied that the spacecraft will work as expected. Now that the review has been passed, engineers can begin making the various bits of spacecraft hardware in earnest, and the clock is ticking.
They must be ready by February 2021 so that assembly and testing of the full spacecraft can begin. The main body of the spacecraft, called the solar electric propulsion (SEP) chassis, is already being built at Maxar Technologies in Palo Alto, California. The mission is due to launch in August 2026.
Its target is the asteroid Psyche, which also doubles as the name of the mission. This exotic mini-world is mostly made of iron and nickel. The composition is strikingly similar to Earth’s core and raises the possibility that Psyche could be the heart of a planetary body that formed early in our solar system’s history and then somehow lost its outer layers of rock. En route to the asteroid, the Psyche spacecraft will fly by Mars in 2023, arriving at its target in 2026.