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29 mars 2021

by Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Major component of NASA's Psyche spacecraft delivered to the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, where the phase known as assembly operations, test and launch is now underway. Over the next year, the spacecraft will complete assembly and undergo rigorous verification and testing before shipping to Cape Canaveral, in Florida, for a launch in August 2022 in the main asteroid belt.

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The solar electric propulsion chassis (SEP), designed by the Maxar Technologies team in Palo Alto, in California, is the size of a van and represents more than 80% (a lot) material that will ultimately constitute the Psyche spaceship The large box-like structure made a dramatic entrance as it rolled into the white-walled clean room of the legendary High Bay 1 of the JPL of the spacecraft assembly facility. Some of the most visible features of the chassis include the 6's high gain antenna 5 feet wide (2 meters wide), the frame that will contain the scientific instruments and the bright red protective covers to protect the delicate material

“Seeing that big spaceship chassis arrive at Maxar's JPL is one of the most exciting stages we've seen on what has already been a journey of 10 years”, said Lindy Elkins-Tanton of Arizona State University, who as investigator director directs the Psyche mission “Building this complex, precision piece of engineering during the year of COVID is absolutely a triumph of human determination and excellence.”

Psyche's target is a metal-rich asteroid of the same name, which revolves around the Sun in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter Scientists believe that Psyche is largely composed of iron and nickel and could be the nucleus of a primitive planet Exploration of the asteroid Psyche (about 140 miles or 226 kilometers wide) could give valuable information about the formation of the Earth and other planets.

During 12 next months, the project team will work against the clock to meet deadlines in the launch race

“It's exciting to see it all come together, and this is the part of the project lifecycle that I love the most”, said Henry Stone, head of the Psyche project, of JPL. “But it's also a really intense phase It's a complex choreography, and if an activity encounters a problem, this can have an impact on the whole process It is absolutely essential to respect the schedule at this phase of the assignment”

SEP chassis arrives at JPL with most of the engineering hardware systems already integrated The Maxar team built the entire structure and incorporated the necessary hardware for the high power electrical system, propulsion systems, to the thermal system and to the guidance and navigation system. The Psyche mission will take advantage of Maxar's super efficient electric propulsion system to push Psyche into deep space Maxar will also supply the large, twin five-panel solar panels that provide power to the spacecraft systems.

“Delivery of the SEP chassis to NASA's JPL is an incredible achievement for us at Maxar”, declared Steven Scott, responsible for the program Psyche de Maxar. “I am so proud of our team We have successfully designed and built an SEP spacecraft for a billion mile journey in a low power environment, while prioritizing the health and safety of our team during a global pandemic. The collaboration between Maxar, Arizona State University and NASA's JPL is a model of success, and we are honored to be part of the Psyche mission

The assembly operations phase, test and launch started on 16 mars, when the engineers gathered in High Bay 1 to start checking the subsystems provided by the JPL, the flight computer, the communication system and the low power distribution system to make sure they work together Now that the chassis has arrived, JPL and Maxar engineers will start to install the remaining hardware, by performing tests as you go.

The mission's three scientific instruments will arrive at JPL over the next few months The magnetometer will study the asteroid's potential magnetic field The multispectral imager will capture images of its surface And the spectrometer will analyze neutrons and gamma rays coming from the surface to determine the elements that make up the asteroid JPL is also providing a technology demonstration instrument that will test high-speed laser communications that could be used by future NASA missions.

Once the complete spaceship is assembled, the orbiter will move from the spacecraft assembly facility to JPL's large thermal vacuum chamber – a massive business in itself – to simulate the harsh environment of deep space. The chamber is where JPL engineers will begin intensive testing to ensure the entire machine can survive in deep space., push with the electric propulsion system, take scientific measurements and communicate with Earth.

Next spring, Fully assembled Psyche to be shipped to NASA's Kennedy Space Center ahead of its scheduled August launch date 2022. The spacecraft will fly near Mars for gravity assistance in May 2023 and at the start of 2026, will orbit around the asteroid, where it will go 21 months collecting scientific data.

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Psyche, NASA, Asteroid, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Spacecraft, Maxar Technologies, Solar electric propulsion

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