NASA is fast-tracking a mission to an asteroid so valuable it could destroy our world’s economy – one scientist calculated the worth of the asteroid to be £8,000 quadrillion.
NASA’s Psyche mission is now set to launch in 2022 – and will target a metal-rich asteroid known as 16 Psyche, arriving in 2026.
American companies such as Planetary Resources – backed by Titanic director James Cameron – are already planning to send robotic vehicles to mine precious metals and rare resources from asteroids.
Planetary Resources describes asteroids as ‘the low-hanging fruit of our solar system,’ and says, ‘a single 500-metre platinum-rich asteroid contains more platinum than has been mined in the history of humanity.’
Psyche principal investigator Lindy Elkins-Tanton of Arizona State University in Tempe said earlier this year that the 124-mile wide asteroid would be worth the astronomical sum if we could somehow drag it back to Earth.
Elkins Tanton said, ‘Even if we could grab a big metal piece and drag it back here … what would you do?
‘Could you kind of sit on it and hide it and control the global resource – kind of like diamonds are controlled corporately – and protect your market? What if you decided you were going to bring it back and you were just going to solve the metal resource problems of humankind for all time? This is wild speculation obviously.’
The Psyche mission will explore one of the most intriguing targets in the main asteroid belt – a giant metal asteroid, known as 16 Psyche, about three times farther away from the sun than is the Earth.
This asteroid measures about 130 miles in diameter and, unlike most other asteroids that are rocky or icy bodies, is thought to be comprised mostly of metallic iron and nickel, similar to Earth’s core.
Scientists wonder whether Psyche could be an exposed core of an early planet that could have been as large as Mars, but which lost its rocky outer layers due to a number of violent collisions billions of years ago.
The mission will help scientists understand how planets and other bodies separated into their layers – including cores, mantles and crusts – early in their histories.
‘This is an opportunity to explore a new type of world – not one of rock or ice, but of metal,’ said Psyche Principal Investigator Lindy Elkins-Tanton of Arizona State University in Tempe. ‘16 Psyche is the only known object of its kind in the solar system, and this is the only way humans will ever visit a core. We learn about inner space by visiting outer space.’
Psyche, also a robotic mission, is targeted to launch in October of 2023, arriving at the asteroid in 2030, following an Earth gravity assist spacecraft maneuver in 2024 and a Mars flyby in 2025.