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April 14, 2022

Media get one last look at ASU’s Psyche spacecraft ahead of its Florida launch

PASADENA, Calif. – It’s a little before 9:30 a.m. when you arrive at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

You’re here to see the Psyche spacecraft, which is in its final stages of testing before being sent to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

You log in, receive your media badge and receive a printout titled “Cleanroom/Logistics Rules”. The rules are designed to ensure that no loose clothing or dust particles somehow end up on the inner workings and instruments of the spacecraft.

You cannot bring a notebook or writing utensil into the clean room. You may not wear make-up or frayed clothing. Most of your skin should be covered and you cannot wear jewelry with sharp edges.

After a few minutes, you and the other members of the media pile into a white van and are driven to the entrance to the white room, where Psyche is.

But you’re not there yet.

In a room outside, you are told to place your feet, one at a time, into a scrubber that cleans the underside of your shoes. Your mobile phone or camera is erased. You are given a gown, slippers, mask, hair net and gloves to wear.

Finally, properly equipped and checked, you cross the airlock and enter the white room. There it is: Psyche.

And standing beside, a smile evident even under his mask, is Lindy Elkins Tantonthe principal researcher of the psyche missionRegents Professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University and Vice President of ASU’s Interplanetary Initiative.

Elkins-Tanton smiles as day is almost upon us. In late April, the Psyche spacecraft – which will be roughly the size of a singles tennis court after its massive solar arrays are deployed in space – will be flown to Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where it will undergo final preparations for its scheduled launch in August. and a 3½ year journey to the asteroid Psyche.

“It seems surreal to me,” Elkins-Tanton said. “But I really try not to count my chickens. I was giving a talk to a group of high school kids a few years ago, and one of them said to me, “What if it blows up on the launch pad?” First, I was like, ‘How can you say those words?’ He goes, ‘Are you getting a do-over?’ And I’m like, ‘No, we don’t have a redesign.’

“It’s a high-risk business, so I try to really enjoy every day and not rely on exactly what comes next. So it’s hard for me to be over the moon. Yeah, we we’re about to launch, but there are still plenty of days until then.

Still, Elkins-Tanton said Psyche’s impending flight is “an important milestone to celebrate.”

She has worked on the mission for 11 years. There have been stops and starts, questions and answers, and while there are still many things that can go wrong – that’s the nature of a space mission – Elkins-Tanton and his team are to the point where they can feel confident about the launch and the mission. . They completed their final hardware and instrument tests last Saturday, and the remaining software tests and mission operational tests will be performed on testbeds at JPL and on the flight vehicle by launch.

“Honestly, that feels like a lot of relief,” said Brian Bone, Psyche’s assembly testing and launch operations manager at JPL. “Knowing that the spacecraft is ready and that the last little step is kind of upon us is incredible. It has passed all of the system tests. It has passed all of its key functional tests. launch view.

Another view of the Psyche spacecraft in the JPL clean room. The mission team completed final hardware and instrument testing last Saturday, and the remaining software testing will be completed before departure in late April for Florida. Photo by Scott Bordow/ASU News

Bone is asked about cleanroom rules and why avoiding even a single particle of dust is vital. If a particle lands on the spacecraft’s cameras, called Psyche Imagers – the principal investigator of this team of instruments is Jim Bell from ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration – this could potentially obscure or obscure the images they take of the asteroid.

“We have to protect these images,” he said. “Now that the cameras are installed, any particles that end up on the lenses may not be seen until we take that first in-flight picture, and there’s nothing we can do about it.”

Once Psyche arrives in Florida, her solar panels will be installed. The days will be counted until the launch period opens on August 1st.

Then, after takeoff, the long wait begins.

The spacecraft’s cameras will be able to see the asteroid – which is potato-shaped and roughly the size of the state of Massachusetts – as a bright spot during the entire cruise phase; starting in late 2025, it will slowly begin to expand for dash cams, Bell said.

Henry Stone, Psyche’s project manager at JPL, said once the asteroid is close enough to be easily seen by cameras, the mission operations team will adjust the spacecraft’s trajectory and launch it into orbit.

Psyche will not land on the asteroid; but while it orbits, its purpose is to determine, among other things, whether the asteroid is remnant of an early planetesimal’s base material (a building block of planet formation) or simply unmelted material.

“If it’s a nucleus, which is the main hypothesis, that’s going to be just great for determining which models best explain how the solar system formed,” Stone said.

This is the dream. On Monday, as the media snapped photos of the spacecraft and Elkins-Tanton did interviews, reality set in: Psyche will soon be on its way to Florida. On the way to the launch pad. En route to the asteroid Psyche.

“We’re going to have 3 and a half years in space, and then we’re going to be almost two years on the asteroid,” Elkins-Tanton said. “But it’s those key milestones where you tell everyone, ‘Great job. Look what we’ve done. And I feel like this is one of them.

About NASA’s Psyche Mission

ASU operates Mission Psyche as the home of the mission’s Principal Investigator, Lindy Elkins-Tanton. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech, is responsible for overall mission management, system engineering, integration and testing, and mission operations. Maxar Technologies delivered the solar electric propulsion chassis, main body of the spacecraft, and most of its engineering hardware systems. NASA’s Launch Services Program at Kennedy Space Center manages launch operations.

For more information on NASA’s Psyche mission, visit www.nasa.gov/psyche and psyche.asu.edu/

Top photo: The Psyche spacecraft is shown in its clean room at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., Monday, April 11. Members of the media have been invited to take one last look at the spacecraft before it flies to Florida for final launch preparations. The introductory period opens on August 1st. Photo by Scott Bordow/ASU News

Scott Bordow


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