For centuries, science fiction writers have spoken of a future where humanity ruled the solar system, going far in its quest for raw materials. Not quite a Type III Kardashev civilization, but one that can clearly mine the rocks that inhabit this part of space.

NASA and other space agencies have only begun to view mining out of the world as the perfect solution for the sustainability of the daring efforts to conquer the solar system. Several missions are planned to test the techniques and equipment for the use of in situ resources (ISRU) on the Moon and even on Mars.

But before we do that, we need to understand where we live, and for that, further studies on the formation of planets, for example, need to be conducted. And there’s a mission that could do all of that by scanning something that looks like the metallic core of a primitive planet.

Psyche is what the mission is called, and its target is a “A single metallic asteroid orbiting the Sun between Mars and Jupiter” which bears the same name. The mission is an orbiter scheduled for launch on August 1, 2022 and managed by Arizona State University and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The spacecraft is set up by Maxar Technologies. With its solar panels, it is the size of a tennis court (81 feet / 24.76 meters long, 24 feet / 7.34 meters wide). Its main body contains scientific instruments, including a gamma-ray and neutron spectrometer, a multispectral imager, a magnetometer and an X-band radio telecommunications system. A new laser communication technology called Deep Space Optical Communication will also be tested on it. flight.

To operate it will be what is called a solar electric propulsion system. This involves large solar panels to turn sunlight into electricity and help power the spacecraft’s thrusters, but also xenon, a neutral gas also used in vehicle headlights and plasma TVs, as a thruster.

The technology is the same as that Maxar developed for the Gateway space station which will orbit the Moon, hence the same principle of operation. The sunlight is collected, the voltage of the light is increased and, thanks to a “Complicated electromagnetic process”, the xenon is transformed into ions which project the propellants.

When she is fully ready to travel in space, that is to say freed from the earth’s attraction and with the propulsion system running, Psyche will finally reach a maximum speed of 200,000 kilometers per hour by relation to the planet from which it started.

Another advantage of this type of propulsion system is that they can run around the clock for years to come, while still having plenty of fuel. JPL estimates that the 2,030 pounds (922 kilograms) of xenon on board is the equivalent of 15 times that if conventional chemical propellants were used.

And finally, as a cool aura for the set, the spaceship will shoot blue beams of ionized xenon at the rear.

The asteroid Psyche targeted by the mission is one of the first to have been discovered by our species. In fact, it’s the 16th asteroid we’ve ever seen, and it happened in 1852 when Italian astronomer Annibale de Gasparis stumbled upon it.

The thing has a diameter of 140 miles (226 km) and an area of ​​64,000 square miles (165,000 km²). It is, in the opinion of scientists, similar to an exposed nickel-iron planet core, “One of the building blocks of our solar system”, and something that all terrestrial planets are likely to have deep in their bowels.

Traveling nearly 300 million miles (480 million km) to see it is a worthwhile effort, despite the fact that it will take 3.5 years for the ship to reach its destination.

Once there, Psyche will spend almost two years orbiting… Psyche, mapping and studying its properties. The stated objectives of the mission are quite technical and can be explored here, but they basically boil down to a better understanding of our solar systems, how the planets are formed and what is hidden within them.

The success of the mission could also open the doors to more efficient means of propulsion and better instruments, which in turn could accelerate our expansion into neighboring space and tighten our grip on it and its resources.

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