The metallic asteroid 16 Psyche, as of yet unidentified with any asteroid family, is one of the most massive asteroids within the asteroid belt and is now the focus of Space Systems Loral (SSL), as that firm is going to be providing the spacecraft platform for a NASA Discovery Mission to explore this spatial concern, which is believed to be a stripped planetary core.
SSL will work for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to support Principal Investigator Dr. Lindy Elkins-Tanton, director of Arizona State University’s (ASU) School of Earth and Space Exploration, in a mission to research the 210 km diameter asteroid, which is believed to be the only place in the solar system where a metal planetary core can be studied. As the industrial partner, SSL will provide the “power-propulsion chassis,” a highly capable composite structure spacecraft platform equipped with a high-power solar electric propulsion (SEP) system.
The NASA Discovery Program goal is to deepen the knowledge of our solar system by launching modest cost-capped missions on a routine cadence. Scheduled to launch in the 2020s, the Psyche mission was selected for flight out of five Discovery Mission candidates.
The spacecraft design is based on the SSL 1300 platform, which has been proven on more than 100 missions, and has the flexibility to serve a broad range of applications, ranging from space exploration and remote sensing, to commercial communications. SSL is also contributing to a variety of other next generation US government missions, including the Restore-L mission for NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, which will demonstrate the ability to extend the life of a satellite in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), and the Dragonfly program for NASA and DARPA, which will demonstrate on orbit satellite assembly.
“Our many years of experience and success in building state of the art spacecraft, position us well to support NASA programs and to contribute to this NASA Discovery Mission,” said John Celli, president of SSL. He added that the firm's partnership with ASU and JPL will enable this ground breaking research, which will help with a better understand of the early days of the solar system and the formation of terrestrial planets.