NASA has shown off the massive solar arrays that will help power its Psyche spacecraft to a distant asteroid of the same name later this year.
A video (below) shared by NASA this week shows the spacecraft’s twin solar arrays opening to their full length of 37 feet (11.3 meters) during a test exercise at the space agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California.
“Seeing the spacecraft fully assembled for the first time is a huge accomplishment; there’s a lot of pride,” said Brian Bone, who leads assembly, test, and launch operations for the mission at JPL. “This is the true fun part. You’re feeling it all come together. You feel the energy change and shift.”
Covering 800 square feet (75 square meters) — about the size of a singles tennis court — the spacecraft’s five-panel, cross-shaped solar arrays are the largest ever installed at JPL, NASA said.
During the mission, which is expected to launch from the Kennedy Space Center in August, the enormous arrays will fully deploy about an hour after lift-off, with the procedure taking just eight minutes.
With the arrays fully open, the Psyche spacecraft will take about three-and-a-half years to travel 1.5 billion miles (2.4 billion kilometers) to the metal-rich Psyche asteroid, which is 173 miles (280 kilometers) at its widest point and said by NASA to be shaped “somewhat like a potato.”
The spacecraft will spend two years studying the asteroid from a close distance in a mission that scientists hope will help answer fundamental questions about the formation of our solar system.
This year is a busy one for NASA as it oversees a number of notable missions. It recently, for example, launched a next-generation satellite for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and is also gearing up for the highly anticipated Artemis I mission using its new SLS rocket to send the Orion spacecraft on a flyby of the moon.
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