LOS ANGELES, June 11 (Xinhua) -- Designed to explore a metal asteroid that could be the heart of a planet, NASA's Psyche mission is readying for a 2022 launch, according to a release of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) on Tuesday.
After extensive review, NASA Headquarters in Washington has approved the mission to begin the final design and fabrication phase, also known as Phase C.
During this phase, the Psyche team will finalize the system design, develop detailed plans and procedures for the spacecraft and science mission, and complete both assembly and testing of the spacecraft and its subsystems.
"The Psyche team is not only elated that we have the go-ahead for Phase C, more importantly we are ready," said Principal Investigator Lindy Elkins-Tanton of Arizona State University in Tempe.
"With the transition into this new mission phase, we are one big step closer to uncovering the secrets of Psyche, a giant mysterious metallic asteroid, and that means the world to us," she said.
According to JPL, the mission still has three more phases to clear. Phase D, which will begin sometime in early 2021, includes final spacecraft assembly and testing, along with the August 2022 launch.
Phase E, which begins soon after Psyche hits the vacuum of space, covers the mission's deep-space operations and science collection. Finally, Phase F occurs after the mission has completed its science operations, which includes both decommissioning the spacecraft and archiving engineering and science data.
The Psyche spacecraft is scheduled to arrive at Asteroid Psyche on Jan. 31, 2026, after flying by Mars in 2023, according to JPL.
Asteroid Psyche is one of the most intriguing targets in the main asteroid belt. While most asteroids are rocky or icy bodies, scientists think Psyche is composed mostly of iron and nickel, similar to Earth's core.
The Psyche mission aims to understand the building blocks of planet formation by exploring firsthand a wholly new and uncharted type of world.