In under 9 months, NASA will send a spaceship to an asteroid that is packed with so much metal that it can make every American family wealthier than Jeff Bezos

NASA is gearing up to send a spaceship to a 124-mile-wide asteroid named 16 Psyche which is estimated to be worth 70,000 times the global economy. If everything goes to plan, the probe will blast off into space for its long voyage sometime in October 2023 and should reach the ultra-valuable asteroid by August 2029. The Psyche mission was originally planned for a launch at the end of 2022; however, the program ran into “development problems” causing a year-long delay. But things are finally back on track and the spaceship is almost ready for its voyage through the solar system. Here’s everything you need to about 16 Psyche and NASA’s exploratory mission that might prove to be a game-changer.

Artist’s conception of a close up of the 16 Psyche.

What makes 16 Psyche so special?
16 Psyche is a giant M-Type asteroid that was discovered by Italian astronomer Annibale de Gasparis in 1852, making it the 16th asteroid ever discovered. It is named after the Greek goddess of the soul and is about the size of Massachusetts, with an average diameter of 140 miles. The asteroid lies in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter and is believed to be a partial core of a shattered early planet, which is what makes it really special.

Unlike most other asteroids that are usually comprised of rock or ice, Scientists through various studies believe that Psyche is made almost entirely of iron and nickel. In fact, NASA scientist Lindy Elkins-Tanton calculated back in 2017 that the iron content of the metal-rich asteroid could be worth $10,000 quadrillion (that’s $10,000 followed by 15 more zeroes). According to the World Bank, the entire global economy is currently worth roughly $110 trillion; but more on that later.

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NASA’s Psyche spacecraft in a clear room. Image – NASA

Why is NASA is sending a spaceship to 16 Psyche?
There’s a lot more to the giant asteroid than its mineral wealth. In fact, the space rock orbiting the Sun might hold answers to many mysteries of our solar system and its formation, including our own planet. Scientists believe that Psyche may have started out as a planet that failed to form and its outer layers of rock were blasted away by violent collisions during our solar system’s early formation, leaving behind a core similar to that of Earth and other planets.

Image – NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU

This is why NASA decided in 2017 to send a spacecraft to study the asteroid from up close, which might reveal secrets about Earth’s own core. NASA claims that this will be mankind’s first will ever visit to a celestial object largely made of metal.

NASA technicians examining the Psyche spaceship. Via – Facebook / NASA

What are the cutting-edge technologies that’ll be used by the Psyche spaceship?
The probe which measures slightly larger than a typical hatchback will be fitted with special equipment to study the asteroid and identify its material contents, According to NASA, the spacecraft will be equipped with multiple cameras that will take pictures of Psyche, along with a gamma-ray neutron spectrometer to measure the elemental composition.

The Psyche spacecraft. Image – Maxar technologies

It will also use a magnetometer to detect its magnetic field, which will confirm if it really was a core of a failed planet. The probe will use the onboard radio to map out the asteroid’s gravity and interior structure.

The Psyche 16 asteroid. Image – Maxar technologies.

How long will it take to reach the asteroid and how much will the mission cost?
A few months back, NASA announced the revised launch schedule for the mission. The spacecraft is expected to launch on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket in October 2023 and will commence on a journey covering 280 million miles to reach the asteroid. With the new timeline in place, the probe will reach Mars orbit sometime in 2026 and take gravity assistance to head toward the asteroid. If everything goes to plan, the spacecraft successfully arrives at 16 Psyche in 2029.

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Illustration of the Psyche spacecraft. Image – Maxar technologies.

It is fitted with large solar panels that are as big as a tennis court once deployed and will generate electricity to power the craft’s propulsion unit. Unlike traditional rocket propulsion, this innovative technology uses electricity to convert xenon gas to xenon ions that provide thrust.

According to NASA, total mission costs, including launch, are $985 million, out of which, $717 million has already been spent as of June 2022.

Jim Martin / Blogspot.

Will this mission open the doors to space mining?
As mentioned before, 16 Psyche is believed to be made entirely out of different metals, which largely consist of iron, nickel, and presumably a number of other rare metals like gold, platinum, copper, cobalt, iridium, and rhenium. The $10,000 quadrillion estimated valuation, obviously, is very tempting as it equates to about $30 billion for every single American citizen. However, it won’t be as easy as putting a lasso around the asteroid and towing it back to our planet. Space mining is an inconceivably difficult task and is currently being researched. However, NASA’s Psyche mission is not about mining or bringing back minerals from the asteroid but to study it, which might actually open the doors to space mining in the future.

Note – As per Statistica, an average American family has 1.94 children under the age of 18.
As of writing, according to Forbes Jeff Bezos is worth $121 billion.

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Written By
Sayan Chakravarty, a Senior Writer at Luxurylaunches, brings over 10 years of automotive journalism expertise. He provides insightful coverage of the latest cars and motorcycles across American and European markets, while also highlighting luxury yachts, high-end watches, and gadgets. An authentic automobile aficionado, his commitment shines through in educating readers about the automotive world. When the keyboard rests, Sayan feeds his wanderlust, traversing the world on his motorcycle.