NASA is apparently preparing to launch a spacecraft to an asteroid believed to contain $10,000 quadrillion worth of iron and nickel. The asteroid, named 16 Psyche, is said to have been part of planet as large as Mars.
“This is an opportunity to explore a new type of world — not one of rock or ice but of metal,” said the project principal investigator Lindy Elkins-Tanton, in a statement. The mission, called Psyche, will be launched on October 2023 and is expected to arrive at the destination on 2030. The asteroid measures 210 kilometers in diameter.
“We’ve been to all the different planets, we’ve been to other asteroids. But we’ve never visited a body that has been made of entirely metal,” said Psyche mission’s project scientist, Carol Polanskey. The project, led by Arizona State University, is not intended to bring any metal back to Earth. Instead, the researchers said that all they want is to learn more about planetary formation.
The scientists believe that this asteroid lost its outer core due to several collisions. But with the spacecraft, they could determine how planets and other objects broke up into cores, mantles and crusts.
When asked if people would go into that asteroid and extract minerals someday, David Oh, a systems engineer for the Psyche mission project, said: “Well, let’s go explore it first and see what it’s made of and then we can let people decide what they want to do with it.”
The space agency will also launch the Lucy spacecraft on October 2021. The spacecraft is built to study six Jupiter Trojan asteroids, which are asteroids trapped in the planet’s gravity.
“This is a unique opportunity,” explained Harold F. Levison, the principal investigator of the Lucy mission. “Because the Trojans are remnants of the primordial material that formed the outer planets, they hold vital clues to deciphering the history of the solar system. Lucy, like the human fossil for which it is named, will revolutionize the understanding of our origins,” Levison added.