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August 1, 2022 - NASA is to explore a giant asteroid which, unlike most other asteroids that are rocky or icy bodies, appears to be the exposed metal core of a planet from the early days of our solar system.
Most of the objects in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter are rocky, but 16 Psyche appears to be made primarily of iron and nickel similar to Earth’s core.
The mission will help scientists assess the hypothesis that the 226km-wide asteroid may be the exposed core of an ancient planet, whose rocky outer layers were stripped away by impacts long ago.
The spacecraft will also carry a technology demonstration called Deep Space Optical Communication. This instrument will transmit data to Earth using photons, a more efficient strategy than the traditional radio-wave method, mission team members have said.
If all proceeds as planned, Psyche will be launched atop a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket from Kennedy Space Center in Florida in Aug 2022, perform a gravity-assist flyby of Mars in May 2023, and arrive in orbit around Psyche in 2026.