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16th Oct 2023

NASA mission to explore asteroid that could make everyone a billionaire lifts off

Charlie Herbert

NASA mission to explore asteroid that could make everyone a billionaire lifts off successfully

The asteroid is thought to be the ‘exposed core of an early planet’

NASA has successfully launched a mission to explore an asteroid believed to be so valuable that it would make every human on Earth a billionaire.

Last year, the space agency confirmed it was planning to explore asteroid 16 Psyche, which is composed of metals similar to those in the core of our own planet, such as iron, nickel and gold.

Between 30 and 60 percent of Psyche’s overall volume is thought to be made up on metal, giving it an estimated worth of $10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, or £8,000 quadrillion in sterling.

This would dwarf the current global economy of around $74 trillion.

Now, the mission to explore the asteroid has successfully launched, after a SpaceX Falcon Heavy took off from Space Launch Complex 39A on October 13.

The Psyche mission aims to survey the 140-mile-wide asteroid which orbits the Sun, in between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.

The space rock is metal-rich, with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory saying it appears to be the “exposed nickel-iron core of an early planet”.

“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,” it says on its website.

There are no plans to somehow try and harvest the precious metals though, with NASA instead travelling to the asteroid to learn more about planetary cores and how planets form.

“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,” they said.

The mission had actually been set to fly last year but was pushed back due to software issues.

The spacecraft is set to travel 2.2 billion-miles (3.5 billion km) to reach the asteroid, and isn’t expected to arrive at 16 Psyche until July 2029.

Psyche is the largest of nine metal-rich asteroids in our solar system, measuring 173 miles (280 km) across and 144 miles (232 km) long.

Nicola Fox, associate administrator for NASA’s science mission directorate, explained, as per Space.com: “Psyche is by far the largest, and that’s why we want to go to it because the smaller ones are more likely to have been changed by things impacting them, whereas the big one, we think, is going to be completely unchanged.”

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