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posted by CoolHand on Tuesday January 10 2017, @01:38AM   Printer-friendly
from the prepping-for-armageddon dept.

NASA has selected two new missions to explore asteroids. One mission will visit several Jupiter trojans, while the other will visit 16 Psyche, the most massive metallic M-type asteroid and the eleventh most massive asteroid known:

NASA has selected two missions that have the potential to open new windows on one of the earliest eras in the history of our solar system – a time less than 10 million years after the birth of our sun. The missions, known as Lucy and Psyche, were chosen from five finalists and will proceed to mission formulation, with the goal of launching in 2021 and 2023, respectively.

[...] Lucy, a robotic spacecraft, is scheduled to launch in October 2021. It's slated to arrive at its first destination, a main belt asteroid, in 2025. From 2027 to 2033, Lucy will explore six Jupiter Trojan asteroids. These asteroids are trapped by Jupiter's gravity in two swarms that share the planet's orbit, one leading and one trailing Jupiter in its 12-year circuit around the sun. The Trojans are thought to be relics of a much earlier era in the history of the solar system, and may have formed far beyond Jupiter's current orbit.

[...] The Psyche mission will explore one of the most intriguing targets in the main asteroid belt – a giant metal asteroid, known as 16 Psyche, about three times farther away from the sun than is the Earth. This asteroid measures about 130 miles (210 kilometers) in diameter and, unlike most other asteroids that are rocky or icy bodies, is thought to be comprised mostly of metallic iron and nickel, similar to Earth's core. Scientists wonder whether Psyche could be an exposed core of an early planet that could have been as large as Mars, but which lost its rocky outer layers due to a number of violent collisions billions of years ago.

The budgets for Discovery Program class missions are capped at $450 million.

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NASA Asteroid Mission -- Metals "Worth" Ten Thousand Quadrillion Dollars 70 comments

NASA wants to uncover the mystery behind the asteroid “16 Psyche.” that may contain a priceless treasure trove of minerals. “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 Carol Polanskey, project scientist for the Psyche mission. Now NASA, led by researchers at Arizona State University, plans to send an unmanned spacecraft to orbit 16 Psyche – an asteroid roughly the size of Massachusetts, made of iron and other precious metals. The mission’s leader estimates that the iron alone on today’s market would be worth $10,000 quadrillion.

Previously: NASA Selects Two Missions to Visit Asteroids

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Mission to Metal Asteroid Psyche Moved Up a Year 5 comments

NASA's mission to the asteroid 16 Psyche has been moved forward by one year:

"We challenged the mission design team to explore if an earlier launch date could provide a more efficient trajectory to the asteroid Psyche, and they came through in a big way," said Jim Green, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "This will enable us to fulfill our science objectives sooner and at a reduced cost."

The Discovery program announcement of opportunity had directed teams to propose missions for launch in either 2021 or 2023. The Lucy mission was selected for the first launch opportunity in 2021, and Psyche was to follow in 2023. Shortly after selection in January, NASA gave the direction to the Psyche team to research earlier opportunities.

"The biggest advantage is the excellent trajectory, which gets us there about twice as fast and is more cost effective," said Principal Investigator Lindy Elkins-Tanton of Arizona State University in Tempe. "We are all extremely excited that NASA was able to accommodate this earlier launch date. The world will see this amazing metal world so much sooner."

The revised trajectory is more efficient, as it eliminates the need for an Earth gravity assist, which ultimately shortens the cruise time. In addition, the new trajectory stays farther from the sun, reducing the amount of heat protection needed for the spacecraft. The trajectory will still include a Mars gravity assist in 2023.

Now I'm psyched.

Previously: NASA Selects Two Missions to Visit Asteroids

Original Submission

SpaceX Protests NASA's Award of "Lucy" Launch Contract to ULA 16 comments

SpaceX protests NASA launch contract award

SpaceX has filed a protest over the award of a launch contract to United Launch Alliance for a NASA planetary science mission, claiming it could carry out the mission for significantly less money.

The protest, filed with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) Feb. 11, is regarding a NASA procurement formally known as RLSP-35. That contract is for the launch of the Lucy mission to the Trojan asteroids of Jupiter, awarded by NASA to ULA Jan. 31 at a total cost to the agency of $148.3 million. The GAO documents did not disclose additional information about the protest, other than the office has until May 22 to render a decision. NASA said that, as a result of the protest, it's halted work on the ULA contract.

[...] SpaceX confirmed that the company was protesting the contract. "Since SpaceX has started launching missions for NASA, this is the first time the company has challenged one of the agency's award decisions," a company spokesperson said in a statement to SpaceNews. "SpaceX offered a solution with extraordinarily high confidence of mission success at a price dramatically lower than the award amount, so we believe the decision to pay vastly more to Boeing and Lockheed for the same mission was therefore not in the best interest of the agency or the American taxpayers," the spokesperson added. ULA is a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

[...] A key factor in the decision to award the contract to ULA was schedule certainty. Lucy has a complex mission profile with a series of flybys in order to visit several asteroid either leading or following Jupiter in its orbit around the sun. That results in a launch window that is open for only about 20 days in October 2021. Should the launch miss that window, the mission cannot be flown as currently planned.

Could it be retaliation for recent audits? Still, a matter of ±$70 million or so is almost nothing compared to the billions being spent annually on the Space Launch System.

Lucy (spacecraft) and trojans.

Also at Ars Technica and Teslarati.

Previously: NASA Selects Two Missions to Visit Asteroids

Original Submission

NASA's Psyche Asteroid Mission Will Launch on a Falcon Heavy Rocket 1 comment

Falcon Heavy to launch NASA Psyche asteroid mission

NASA awarded a contract to SpaceX Feb. 28 for the launch of a mission to a large metallic asteroid on the company's Falcon Heavy rocket.

NASA said that it will use a Falcon Heavy to launch its Psyche mission in July 2022 from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. The contract is valued at $117 million, which includes the launch itself and other mission-related costs.

Psyche is one of two missions NASA selected in January 2017 for its Discovery program of relatively low-cost planetary science missions. Psyche will use a Mars flyby in 2023 to arrive at its destination, an asteroid also called Psyche, in January 2026. The spacecraft will go into orbit around the asteroid, one of the largest in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

The asteroid is primarily made of iron and nickel, and could be the remnant of a core of a protoplanet that attempted to form there before high-speed collisions with other planetesimals broke it apart. Planetary scientists believe that studies of the asteroid Psyche could help them better understand the formation of the solar system.

The Psyche mission is led by Arizona State University, with Maxar the prime contractor for the spacecraft. The launch will also carry two smallsat secondary payloads: Escape and Plasma Acceleration and Dynamics Explorers (EscaPADE), which will study the Martian atmosphere, and Janus, which will study binary asteroids.

Also at TechCrunch.

NASA Selects Two Missions to Visit Asteroids
NASA Asteroid Mission -- Metals "Worth" Ten Thousand Quadrillion Dollars
SpaceX Drops Protest of "Lucy" Contract, Gets Double Asteroid Redirection Test Contract
Nasa Contemplates Mission to the Core of a Protoplanet in 2022

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  • (Score: 1) by DmT on Tuesday January 10 2017, @06:59PM

    by DmT (6439) on Tuesday January 10 2017, @06:59PM (#452180)

    Great names, Trojan and Psych ...