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NASA planning mission to asteroid that could be worth more than global economy

"We really don’t know what we’re going to see until we visit, and we’re going to be surprised."

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Illustration of asteroid 16 Psyche. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU via SWNS)

By Dean Murray via SWNS

Scientist are sending a ship into space to study an asteroid that could be worth more than entire global economy.

NASA's Psyche mission, led by Arizona State University, is a journey to a unique metal-rich asteroid orbiting the Sun between Mars and Jupiter.

After a one-year delay to complete critical testing, NASA has announced the Psyche project is targeting an October 2023 launch on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket.

The rock, named 16 Psyche, is a 140-mile-wide asteroid that potentially has a core of iron, nickel and gold worth $10,000 quintillion.

Currently, the entire global economy is estimated to be roughly $110 trillion.

Technicians at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida perform work on the agency’s Psyche spacecraft inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility (PHSF) on May 3, 2022. (NASA/Isaac Watson via SWNS)

With an October 2023 launch date, the Psyche spacecraft will arrive at the asteroid, which is 499,555,545km away from Earth, in August 2029.

NASA said that what makes Psyche unique is that it appears to be the exposed nickel-iron core of an early planet, one of the building blocks of our solar system.

The space agency said: "Deep within rocky, terrestrial planets - including Earth - scientists infer the presence of metallic cores, but these lie unreachably far below the planets' rocky mantles and crusts.

"Because we cannot see or measure Earth's core directly, Psyche offers a unique window into the violent history of collisions and accretion that created terrestrial planets."

Despite high initial valuations of metals in the asteroid, University of Arizona research also concedes it may not be as metallic or dense as previously believed.

The mission’s principal investigator Lindy Elkins-Tanton of Arizona State University said: "There are a lot of basic questions about Psyche that are unanswered. And with every detail that gets added from data we can collect from Earth, it just becomes harder to make a sensible story.

"We really don’t know what we’re going to see until we visit, and we’re going to be surprised."

NASA's Psyche spacecraft is shown in a clean room on Dec. 8, 2022, at Astrotech Space Operations Facility near the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (NASA/Isaac Watson via SWNS)

16 Psyche is described by NASA "as one of the most intriguing targets in the main asteroid belt."

Its average diameter is about one-sixteenth the diameter of Earth’s Moon or about the distance between Los Angeles and San Diego.

Once in orbit, NASA's spacecraft will map and study Psyche using a multispectral imager, a gamma-ray and neutron spectrometer, a magnetometer, and a radio instrument (for gravity measurement).

The mission’s goal is, among other things, to determine whether Psyche is indeed the core of a planetesimal.

Psyche was discovered by Italian astronomer Annibale de Gasparis on March 17, 1852. He named the asteroid for Psyche, the Greek goddess of the soul who was born mortal and married Eros (Roman Cupid), the god of Love.

Pysche orbits the Sun between Mars and Jupiter at a distance ranging from 235 million to 309 million miles from the Sun.

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