Nasa, the postponement of the Psyche mission is a big problem


Rosetta’s team had to contend with two further complications: the comet had aelliptical orbit, and not circular like most asteroids, which made it difficult to adapt to its speed. In addition, the researchers wanted to plan the trip so that Rosetta and the Philae lander reached the comet at a time when it was not too close to the Sun.where it would have been most active, expelling pieces of ice and dust and complicating a landing that was already difficult to make.

Engineers design spacecraft with the launch and trajectory options and, in this case, the best route was represented by several loops around the Earth. “It starts from the goal and then works backwards – Accomazzo explains -. There are three sources of energy: the rocket’s initial energy, the energy in the spacecraft’s propellant tanks, and the energy that can be obtained from planetary oscillations. It was an artisanal work of my colleagues, who tried to find the optimal solution“.

Parker points out that gravity slings are not always an option, because it is necessary to evaluate the trajectory of the spacecraft. However, he agrees that they can be advantageous, especially when the destination is very far away: “The asteroid missions in the main belt are difficult and require a lot of fuel – Parker says -. Psyche could have headed straight for the target with a larger launch vehicle or smaller spacecraft, or with a different engine“, but this could have increased costs or reduced the possibilities for scientific exploration. NASA predicted that the spacecraft would orbit the asteroid for at least 21 months, taking photos and using a magnetometer to look for the remains of a magnetic field, which it could indicate that the body was originally the core of a planet.

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There is always a third option: interrupt the mission. A particularly long delay can make the scientific rationale for a mission or the technologies involved obsolete. A noticeable delay can have detrimental effects even in cases where there is competition between missions with similar objectives, as one can end up eclipsing the other.

Effects on other missions

The postponement of Psyche has consequences on other smaller missions. To keep costs down, NASA often launches several spacecraft on the same rocket at the same time. For example, the EscaPade Mars mission, which Parker was working on, initially had to travel with Psyche, only to give up because the originally planned launch period was not compatible for his team.

The researchers had therefore identified another mission to launch with Psyche, called Janus, which involves the launch of a pair of spacecraft towards a binary asteroid, completing two flyovers of Earth on the way. Janus’ team will now have to figure out if it can be launched alongside Psyche at a future date. If not, they will have to find another means of reaching space and recalculate the trajectory of their vehicles.

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Regardless of what happens with Psyche, space enthusiasts won’t have to wait until 2029 or 2030 to see an asteroid up close. There probe Osiris-Rex of NASA, that is approached the asteroid Bennu in 2020, it will deliver a sample to Earth in 2023.

And after the Dart probealso from NASA, will purposely crash into the asteroid Dimorphos in the course of next autumn, the European Space Agency plans to send a follow-up probe called Herawhich will arrive at its destination in 2026 to examine the consequences.

This article originally appeared on Wired US.

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