- NASA to send its Psyche spacecraft 2.4 billion kms from the Earth to study metal-rich Psyche asteroid, with 2 giant solar arrays powering it
- Each of the 2 arrays are 37.1 ft long and 24 ft wide, and are the largest ever deployed by JPL at the NASA lab
- Solar arrays will power the spacecraft’s journey to the asteroid, along with science instruments as well as the Deep Space Optical Communications technology
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) of the US government has successfully deployed twin solar arrays to the Psyche spacecraft which is getting ready to undertake a 2.4 billion kms journey in August 2022, to a metal-rich asteroid that’s also named Psyche.
The spacecraft will travel to the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter which is of course quite far from both the Earth and the Sun. The twin arrays are about 800 sq. ft. together which NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) says is the largest ever deployed at the lab. A single array is 37.1 ft long and 24 ft wide when fully deployed.
“After the successful installation and deployment of the three center panels inside a clean room at JPL, Psyche’s arrays were folded back against the chassis and stowed for additional spacecraft testing, explained NASA. “The arrays will return to Maxar, which has specialized equipment to test the deployment of the two perpendicular cross panels. Later this spring, the arrays will be reunited with the spacecraft at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and stowed for launch from Cape Canaveral.”
Yet NASA said the test at JPL brings the spacecraft much closer to completion before its August launch.
Once the spacecraft is launched into space, an hour later the arrays will deploy and latch into place with each wing taking 7.5 minutes to complete the process. These will also provide power for the spacecraft’s science instruments as well as the Deep Space Optical Communications technology demonstration that NASA said will test high-data -rate laser communications.
NASA explains that when near Earth, the solar arrays generate 21 kW which is enough to power 3 or 4 average US homes. So far away at Psyche, the panels will be able to produce only about 2 kW which is sufficient to run a hair dryer on earth.
Yet, the solar panels deployed for the spacecraft are hyper-efficient, lightweight, radiation resistant and designed to work in low-light conditions, far away from the sun, according to Psyche Technical Director at Maxar Technologies in Palo Alto, California, Peter Lord. Maxar has built the arrays and solar electric propulsion chassis.
Psyche will travel the space for 3.5 years to reach Psyche asteroid in 2026 and spend around 2 years to make ‘increasingly close orbits of the asteroid to study it’. More about the Psyche mission can be read on NASA’s website.