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NASA's Spacecraft Prepares for a Memorable Journey to a Strange Metallic Asteroid

As this year is coming to an end, NASA's preparing its Psyche spacecraft for a long space journey. The spacecraft will launch in 2022 and will travel for 1.5 billion miles (2.4 billion kilometers) until it gets to its destination: a unique-looking metal-rich asteroid as big as Massachusetts.
Illustration of the Psyche asteroid 9 photos
Illustration of NASA's Psyche spacecraftNASA Psyche spacecraftPsyche asteroidPsyche missionThe photo on the left captures an operating electric Hall thruster identical to those that will propel NASA's Psyche spacecraft, while the photo on the right shows a similar non-operating Hall thrusterNASA's Psyche spacecraft is photographed in July 2021 during the mission's assembly, test, and launch operations phaseNASA's Psyche spacecraft is photographed in July 2021 during the mission's assembly, test, and launch operations phaseNASA's Psyche spacecraft is photographed in July 2021 during the mission's assembly, test, and launch operations phase
Located somewhere between Mars and Jupiter, in the asteroid belt, this mysterious asteroid was only observed from afar ever since it was discovered in 1852. Also named Psyche, the celestial object appears as a fuzzy blur when seen from Earth-based telescopes. And it appears that, from radar data obtained, it's has a potato-like shape.

But don't get fooled by its appearance because scientists believe that Psyche is made up of incredibly rare metals. One possible explanation is that it was once part of a rocky planet or that it was the core of one.

To find out from what exactly it is made of, where it came from, and what mysteries it holds regarding the formation of our Solar System, NASA is preparing to launch its Psyche spacecraft next year from its Kennedy Space Center.

Once in space, the vehicle will use solar electric propulsion. Large solar panels will convert sunlight into energy and supply the necessary power to the spacecraft's thrusters. In 2023, Psyche will pass by Mars to get a gravity push towards its final destination.

Psyche will spend more than three years in total, making its final approach to the asteroid in late 2025. As the spacecraft gets closer, the mission team will turn on its cameras. This will allow them to finally get a clear picture of the enigmatic object. Then, in 2026, the spacecraft will enter Psyche's orbit and stick around for almost two years in order to explore the metallic asteroid.

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