NASA Psyche Spacecraft Takes First Space Photo on Historic Journey
On December 4th, a major milestone was reached in NASA’s Psyche spacecraft mission as the probe opened its cameras to the universe. The spacecraft was launched on October 13th atop a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket, marking the first interplanetary mission for the Heavy. Since its launch, the spacecraft has been traveling in darkness, with its solar-winged craft’s cameras turned off, as it heads towards the asteroid for which it’s named, 16 Psyche, located between Mars and Jupiter.
16 Psyche is of significant interest to planetary researchers because it’s believed to be made almost entirely of metal, particularly iron and nickel. This is important as these are the specific metals found in Earth’s core, offering researchers a unique opportunity to indirectly study the center of our own planet. On December 5th, the Psyche spacecraft’s imaging instrument took its first space photo, showcasing a spread of stars visible from Psyche’s vantage point.
The image, a mosaic of raw data, is the spacecraft’s first light and marks an exciting step in the mission. Jim Bell, the Psyche imager instrument lead at Arizona State University, expressed excitement at the initial images and emphasized the team’s plans to test the imager’s functionality in preparation for a flyby of Mars in 2026.
The image consisted of 68 separate images capturing bodies in the constellation Pisces. The Psyche team is working on fine-tuning the image and aims to use star images to calibrate the spacecraft’s settings before capturing data about the asteroid target. Additionally, Psyche’s Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) device recently sent a laser signal to Earth from the spacecraft’s location 10 million miles away, and the neutron-detecting sensors, meant to analyze 16 Psyche’s chemical composition, are set to begin operation the week of December 11th.
The Psyche mission is set to provide valuable insights into the composition of 16 Psyche and aid in advancing our understanding of the solar system’s origins. With these exciting developments, the space community eagerly awaits further discoveries from the historic journey of the Psyche spacecraft.