“With its solar arrays installed, the spacecraft is close to its final configuration ahead of a planned August launch.
NASA’s Psyche mission is almost ready for its moment in the Sun – a 1.5-billion-mile (2.4-billion-kilometer) solar-powered journey to a mysterious, metal-rich asteroid of the same name. Twin solar arrays have been attached to the spacecraft body, unfolded lengthwise, and then restowed. This test brings the craft that much closer to completion before its August launch.
“Seeing the spacecraft fully assembled for the first time is a huge accomplishment; there’s a lot of pride,” said Brian Bone, who leads assembly, test, and launch operations for the mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “This is the true fun part. You’re feeling it all come together. You feel the energy change and shift.”
At 800 square feet (75 square meters), the five-panel, cross-shaped solar arrays are the largest ever installed at JPL, which has built many spacecraft over the decades. When the arrays fully deploy in flight, the spacecraft will be about the size of a singles tennis court. After a 3 ½-year solar-powered cruise, the craft will arrive in 2026 at the asteroid Psyche, which is 173 miles (280 kilometers) at its widest point and thought to be unusually rich in metal. The spacecraft will spend nearly two years making increasingly close orbits of the asteroid to study it.
This video shows the deployment of the three center panels on one of the 37-foot-long (11.3-meter-long) twin solar arrays on NASA’s Psyche spacecraft. Because they are so long, only one array at a time can be deployed in JPL’s High Bay 2 clean room. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Venturing to the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, far from the Sun, presents challenges for this mission, which adapted standard Earth-orbiting commercial satellite technology for use in the cold and dark of deep space. Near Earth, the solar arrays generate 21 kilowatts – enough electricity to power three or four average U.S. homes. But at Psyche, they’ll produce only about 2 kilowatts – sufficient for little more than a hair dryer.”