Nasa is having an asteroid moment with three exciting missions happening in the next few months - in a term the space agency has dubbed as "asteroid autumn".
“NASA has invested in multiple missions that are focused on the richly diverse populations of asteroids and the unique roles that each of those populations can play in telling the story of our solar system’s history,” said Lori Glaze, director, Planetary Sciences Division, NASA Headquarters in Washington, in a press briefing. “Three of those missions are having big milestones this fall in what we’re calling ‘asteroid autumn.’”
So what are the three missions?
Nasa's Psyche mission launch window has been delayed by a week, and will now open on 12 October instead of 5 October. However, it will still launch from Florida.
Nasa said the delay will give engineers more time to verify parameters used for nitrogen cold-gas thrustsers that orient the spacecraft, after they need to operate at warmer temperatures than previously predicted.
The aim of Nasa's Psyche mission is to uncover the secrets of 16 Psyche - one of the most metallic objects ever observed and possibly the core of a baby planet. The orbiter should reach the asteroid in July 2029. Lindy Elkins-Tanton, the mission's principal investigator revealed how she would like the asteroid to look. She said: "I would love for it to look like a shiny, polished, what's called a pallasite meteorite — with the shiny silver metal and the beautiful gold and green jewel-like silicate minerals in between.
"But it's not going to look like that. Because no ones been onto Psyche, cut it open and polished it.
"It's been hanging out in space, getting solar wind hitting it for a really, really long time. So the surfaces are not likely to be shiny."
The orbiter will be sent into space on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket which is scheduled to lift off from Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center.
In another mission, Nasa are also preparing to recover a capsule containing fragments of the asteroid Bennu.
The OSIRIS-REX spacecraft will drop off a 8.8oz (250g) sample of rock and dust from the asteroid in Utah's western desert on 24 September.
Bennu is thought to be the size of the Empire State Building and around 200 million miles away from us is believed to contain microscopic mineral grains that pre-date the solar system.
In another asteroid mission, a spacecraft called Lucy which was launched in October 2021 to study eight asteroids that orbit Jupiter – will pass its first space rock called Dinkinesh on 1 November.
Lucy is the first probe to tour the Trojan asteroids, which are seen as "time capsules from the birth of our solar system".
However, it will get a glimpse of the asteroids now, but its maiden flyby is not until 2027.