NASA Logo, National Aeronautics and Space Administration
NASA Space Science Data Coordinated Archive Header




Psyche is a NASA Discovery mission designed to rendezvous with a metallic asteroid, 16 Psyche, in the main asteroid belt and study it from orbit. The science goals involve the first exploration of a metal asteroid, with the science objectives of determining: if Psyche is a planetary core, as opposed to unmelted material; the relative ages of Psyche's surface; whether small metal bodies incorporate the same light elements as are expected in the Earth's core; whether Psyche was formed under conditions more oxidizing or reducing than the Earth's core; and the characterization of Psyche's topography. To achieve these objectives, the spacecraft will carry a multispectral imager, gamma-ray and neutron spectrometer, magnetometer, and an X-band gravity investigation.

Spacecraft and Subsystems

The Psyche spacecraft bus is box-shaped, 3.1 meters long by 2.4 meters wide. Based on the SSL 1300 satellite bus, it has a dry mass of under 1400 kg. It has two array panel wings, each with 5 solar panels and mounted with a single-axis gimble, which bring the total size of the spacecraft to 24.76 meters by 7.34 meters. The solar panels are mounted in a cross-like configuration, the total area is 75 square meters. They can produce 19.2 kW power at 1 AU and 2.4 kW at the maximum range from the Sun of 3.3 AU. A core central cylinder made of graphite composite material makes up the main structural element and holds seven 82-liter tanks that contain 1064 kg of xenon propellant, protected by thermal blankets. It has a solar electric propulsion system. It will employ the Deep Space Optical Communication technology demonstration to test laser-optical communications. A 2 meter high-gain X-band dish antenna is mounted on the top (+z) deck of the spacecraft. There are also three low-gain antennas. Communications will be via a 100-W Travelling Wave Tube Amplifier (TWTA), allowing uplink of up to 180 kbps. Two booms holding the magnetometers and the Gamma Ray and Neutron Spectrometer also extend from the top surface. A set of four Stationary Plasma Thrusters (SPT-140) are used for spacecraft propulsion. Attitude control and 3-axis stabilization is achieved using four reaction wheels and cold gas thrusters, attitude knowledge is provided by star trackers and a Sun sensor.

Mission Profile

Psyche launched on 13 October 2023, at 14:19:43 UT (10:19:43 a.m. EDT) on a Falcon 9 Heavy from Kennedy Space Center. It will start its journey with a 100 day commissioning phase. After a Mars gravity assist flyby (within about 3000 km) in May 2026, it will reach the asteroid Psyche in August 2029. After a 100 day approach phase, during which it will be observing Psyche's rotation and spin axis, it will go into a polar orbit. It will initially perform a characterization orbit with a period of 32.6 hours and an inclination of 90 degrees at a distance roughly 700 km above the surface for 56 days (41 orbits). It will then move down to its topography mapping orbit, at an altitude of about 300 km with a period of 11.6 hours. After 92 days in this orbit (190 orbits), it will change from its 90 degree (polar orbit) inclination into a 160 degree (retrograde) inclination and move down closer to a 3.6 hour elemental mapping orbit with an altitude of roughly 75 km, that will last 100 days (666 orbits). Following this, it will move up to a 190 km, 7.2 hour gravity mapping orbit and change its inclination back to 90 degrees. It is then planned to move back up to the 300 km, 11.6 hour topography mapping polar orbit again for 100 days (206 orbits). At the end of the mission, Psyche will be left in orbit around the asteroid.

Asteroid 16 Psyche

16 Psyche is an M-type (metallic) asteroid orbiting in the main asteroid belt. The estimated dimensions are 279×232×189 km with an uncertainty of about 10%. The estimated total mass is about 2.0-2.5 x 10^19 kg, and density estimates are about 3.4 to 4.1 grams per cubic cm. The asteroid appears to be composed of 30% to 60% iron and nickel by volume, with the remainder being low-iron silicates with low porosity.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU

Alternate Names

  • 58049
  • urn:nasa:pds:context:instrument_host:spacecraft.psyche

Facts in Brief

Launch Date: 2023-10-13
Launch Vehicle: Falcon 9 Heavy
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral, United States
Mass: 1400 kg
Nominal Power: 2400 W

Funding Agency

  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration (United States)


  • Planetary Science

Additional Information

Questions and comments about this spacecraft can be directed to: Dr. David R. Williams



NameRoleOriginal AffiliationE-mail
Dr. Henry StoneProject ManagerNASA Jet Propulsion
Dr. Linda T. Elkins-TantonMission Principal InvestigatorArizona State
Dr. Sarah NobleMission ScientistNASA
Dr. Jim BellDeputy Mission Principal InvestigatorArizona State
[] NASA Logo -