The Lucy and Psyche missions will proceed to formulation, with the aim of launching respectively in 2021 and 2023. "We think that by studying them, we're going to have the same impact on the field of planetary science, as the fossil Lucy had on our understanding of the history of the human race".
"Our many years of experience and success in building state of the art spacecraft, position us well to support NASA programs and to contribute to this NASA Discovery Mission", said John Celli, president of SSL. Some scientists believe it was an exposed core from an early planet, which likely lost its rocky outer layer due to collisions with other space objects. The asteroid, which is around 150 miles in diameter is made of metallic iron and nickel. The asteroids are of interest to researchers because, while they are trapped in the pull of Jupiter's gravity, they do not orbit the planet.
The new mission, Psyche will explore some unexplored parts of space. The mission marks the first time spacecraft will visit a metallic asteroid, an extremely rare object in the solar system. The scientists have named the mission after asteroids name Psyche, stated Lindy Elkins director of the Arizona State University School of earth and space exploration.
"The big outer planets had a profound effect, we believe, on how the Earth formed, " Levison told NewsHour, www.pbs.org reported. Scheduled to launch in the 2020s, the Psyche mission was selected for flight out of five Discovery Mission candidates. Scientists suspect the asteroids, now caught in the largest planet's 12-year orbit around the sun, may have existed in the beginnings of the solar system and before Jupiter's orbit. Just like Earth's nickel-iron core, which produces a massive magnetic field around our planet, Psyche is believed to also generate a magnetic field that is possibly almost as strong as that of the Earth.
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Same day NASA also announced that Neocam the telescope will explore asteroids that are expected to strike the earth. The program has a development cost cap of about $450 million.
Psyche is the only known round metal body in the solar system.
The Discovery announcement suggests a growing enthusiasm for asteroid research. Each mission focuses on a different aspect of asteroid science to give scientists the broader picture of solar system formation and evolution. The missions are designed and led by a principal investigator, who assembles a team of scientists and engineers, to address key science questions about the solar system. The OSIRIS-REx mission, which launched on September 8, 2016, is speeding toward a 2018 rendezvous with the asteroid Bennu, and will deliver a sample back to Earth in 2023.