NASA’s Psyche Mission: Unlocking the Secrets of an Iron-rich Quadrillion Worth Asteroid

February 17, 2023
1 min read
An artist's concept of the Psyche spacecraft. Credit: Maxar/ASU/P. Rubin/NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA has resumed the Psyche mission, which is set to launch this year, aiming to explore the science and mining potential of the 16 Psyche asteroid. Psyche, a 140-mile diameter, metal-rich asteroid orbiting between Mars and Jupiter, could be the remnant of a shattered planet’s core. NASA plans to study it using instruments such as multispectral cameras and Gamma Ray and neutron spectrometers, communicating with Earth via a high-gain antenna.

If it contains a magnetic field, it could offer insight into Earth’s core. The asteroid’s metal content could be worth up to $10,000 quadrillion, including gold and platinum, although mining is not the mission’s focus. It will take about four years for NASA‘s Psyche spacecraft to slingshot around Mars for a gravity assist to orbit the asteroid at a distance of about 700 km.

Psyche is the largest M class asteroid, thought to be the remnants of iron-rich cores of proto-planets. If it proves to be part of a core, it would be from the first generation of iron-cored planets in the solar system. The asteroid’s thermal radiation suggests it is composed of at least 20% metal. While space mining may seem far-fetched, several start-ups have made asteroid mining plans, and AstroForge, an asteroid mining company, has a test launch planned.

Psyche’s metal content, worth 10 quintillion dollars, was estimated by Psyche’s principal investigator, Lindy Elkins-Tanton, a planetary scientist at Arizona State University, based on metal prices, including nickel, a few years ago. However, the estimate is fallacious and only serves as an amusing case study in supply and demand extremes.


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