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Scientists eye nickel iron asteroid Psyche for future NASA Discovery mission

Asteroid mining vehicle
Asteroid mining vehicle

A January 15, 2014 story in reports that scientists are looking at a main belt asteroid named Psyche as a candidate for NASA’s next Discovery class mission. Psyche is a 155 mile wide nickel iron asteroid, thought to have had its rocky crust blown away in an ancient collision. A mission to Psyche would likely be similar to the Dawn probe that recently explored Vesta and is currently en route to Ceres, the largest asteroid in the main belt. Dawn is propelled by an electric ion engine that slowly accelerates and decelerates the probe, allowing for long term operations.

A Discovery mission to Psyche would be capped at $425 million in 2010 dollars. The next round of Discovery missions is scheduled to be down selected in 2015.

To note the commercial importance of Psyche, Reuters recently noted that the asteroid has 17 million billion tons of nickel iron, enough to satisfy the world’s needs for millions of years. It is currently unknown what other metals, such as platinum, that the asteroid might have. Psyche would therefore be a prime target for future asteroid miners once such operations begin in the main belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter perhaps sometime later this century.