Psyche asteroid explorer arrives at Kennedy Space Center for launch preps

NASA’s Psyche spacecraft inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: NASA/Isaac Watson

The High Voltage Power Supplies for the GRS and NS Instruments on the Psyche spacecraft were designed and built at SSL

A U.S. military cargo plane delivered NASA’s Psyche spacecraft from California to the Kennedy Space Center last week, starting a three-month campaign to ready the asteroid explorer for liftoff on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket in August.

The launch preparations at Kennedy will include loading of more than a ton of xenon gas into the Psyche spacecraft, followed by encapsulation of the probe inside SpaceX’s payload fairing before rolling out to pad 39A for integration with a Falcon Heavy launcher.

“Shipping to the launch site feels like the home stretch is kind of coming, and it certainly feels that way on Psyche,” said Brian Bone, the lead engineer on Psyche’s assembly, test, and launch operations team.

The xenon will fuel the spacecraft’s electric propulsion system, a set of four high-efficiency electric thrusters to guide Psyche from Earth to its namesake asteroid destination.

The robotic mission will reach the asteroid Psyche in January 2026, then enter a series of orbits at different distances to map the unexplored world. Psyche, the asteroid, has an irregular shape and has an average diameter of about 140 miles (226 kilometers). It is located between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, and made mostly of nickel and iron metals.

The Psyche spacecraft’s launch period opens Aug. 1, with liftoff from pad 39A on that day timed for 2:26 p.m. EDT (1826 GMT). The launch will be the first flight of SpaceX’s powerful triple-core Falcon Heavy rocket for NASA.

The mission’s launch period extends several weeks, and is scheduled to allow the Psyche spacecraft to reach Mars in May 2023 for a flyby maneuver, using the planet’s gravity to slingshot toward the asteroid belt.

The Complete Article, courtesy of Stephen Clark