NASA completes assembly of solar panels for Psyche spacecraft

Another milestone has been taken by the team of scientists responsible for NASA’s Psyche mission, which will launch in August to study one of the first asteroids discovered, the so-called 16 Psyche (16 Psyche, in English). After testing in a vacuum chamber, completed last monthit was now time to install the spacecraft’s solar panels.

JPL team checking the solar electric propulsion (SEP) chassis of the Psyche spacecraft. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

According to NASA, Psyche will make a 2.4 billion kilometer solar-powered journey to the mysterious metal-rich asteroid. For this reason, twin solar panels were attached to the body of the spacecraft, bent longitudinally, and then restored.


Discovered by Italian astronomer Annibale de Gasparis in 1852, space rock 12 Psyche is named after the goddess of the soul in Greek mythology and is the largest M-type asteroid ever discovered.

“To see the spacecraft fully assembled for the first time is a huge achievement. There is a lot of pride,” said Brian Bone, who leads the mission’s assembly, test and launch operations at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory ( JPL) from NASA in Southern California.” That’s the fun part. You feel that everything is falling into place. You even feel the shift in energy.

Learn more about NASA’s Psyche mission

At 75 square meters, the five-panel, cross-shaped solar panels are the largest ever assembled and installed at JPL, which has built many spacecraft over the decades.

When the arrays fully deploy in flight, the spacecraft will be the size of a tennis court. After a trajectory of 3.5 years, the spacecraft will arrive in 2026 on the asteroid Psyche, considered to be extraordinarily rich in metal. Then the spacecraft will spend nearly two years orbiting closer and closer to the asteroid to study it.

Venture into the asteroid belt between March and Jupiter, far from the Sun, presents challenges for this mission, which has adapted standard commercial satellite technology in Earth orbit for use in the cold and dark of deep space.

Near Earth, the solar panels generate 21 kilowatts, enough electricity to power three or four homes. On the Psyche spacecraft, however, the panels will only produce around 2 kilowatts – enough for little more than a hair dryer.

“The underlying technology is not much different from solar panels installed in a house, but Psyches are hyper efficient, lightweight, radiation resistant and able to deliver more power with less sunlight,” Peter said. Lord, technical director of the Psyche mission at Maxar Technologies in Palo Alto, Calif., where the solar electric propulsion panels and chassis were built. “These arrays are designed to work in low light conditions away from direct sunlight,” he added.

After the three center panels were successfully installed and deployed in a clean room at JPL, the Psyche arrays were folded back against the chassis and stored for further testing.

The networks will be returned to Maxar, which has specialized equipment to test the installation of the two perpendicular cross panels. Later this semester, the arrays will join the spacecraft at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where they will be stored for launch from Cape Canaveral.

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About an hour after launch, the panels will be deployed and set up in a process that will take 7.5 minutes per wing. They will then provide all the power necessary for the trip to the asteroid 16 Psyche, as well as the power necessary for the operation of scientific instruments.

These are: a magnetometer to measure any magnetic field the asteroid may have, cameras to photograph and map its surface, and spectrometers to reveal its composition.

The spacecraft will also test an experimental laser communication system called Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) to communicate with Earth. DSOC uses photons (light) to communicate instead of normal radio waves and promises 10 to 100 times better performance than current radio systems, without a significant increase in the mass, volume or power consumption of the device. ‘equipment.

Analysis of Asteroid 16 Psyche’s Composition Could Reveal Unprecedented Solar System Data

Psyche is “sister” of Lucy, a mission launched in November that will study several of Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids. Despite a problem with one of its solar panels, the spacecraft is currently heading as planned towards its target, for a mission that is expected to last 12 years.

The asteroids Lucy will explore are called “fossils” of planet formation by NASA, and they could give us clues to the origins of the solar system. The reason for this is that they would have been captured in their current orbits early in the formation of the solar system.

What the Psyche spacecraft’s instruments are transmitting to scientists will help them better understand the mysterious metal-rich asteroid. One possible explanation for Psyche’s extraordinarily high metal content is that it formed early in the history of our solar system, either as the residual base material of a planetesimal – one of the building blocks rocky planets – or as primordial material that never collapsed.

This mission aims to help answer fundamental questions about the Earth’s metallic core and the formation of our solar system.

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