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NASA's Psyche asteroid spacecraft passes shake-and-bake test and meets the press

NASA's Psyche spacecraft is seen in early 2022 on its way to the vacuum chamber at the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
NASA's Psyche spacecraft is seen in early 2022 on its way to the vacuum chamber at the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA's Psyche asteroid probe clean room in California is seeing a lot of action these days as the spacecraft gets set for its launch in August.

On top of engineers subjecting the asteroid-bound mission to "shake-and-bake" procedures, the spacecraft got visitors from the media at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena.

The Psyche asteroid mission will be tasked with exploring the 140-mile-wide (225 kilometers) metallic asteroid 16 Psyche, but before leaving Earth it must pass a rigorous suite of testing. For example, engineers spent 18 days simulating the coldest and warmest conditions in flight, to make sure no key components would have trouble in the harsh conditions of space.

Then came dynamics testing, to make sure the spacecraft would be up to the vibration, acoustics and shock associated with launch and deployment. (The spacecraft received sound waves 100 times louder than a typical rock concert, JPL stated, just in case you're wondering how metal the mission will be.)

Related: NASA's mission to metal asteroid Psyche in pictures

Psyche received a clean bill of health following its various exposures in recent weeks, on top of earlier vacuum testing and simulations of the electrical and magnetic conditions in space. In all, the spacecraft has been running the gauntlet since December to prove it can make the mission's objectives.

"The tests show that, yes, the spacecraft is flightworthy," Randy Lindemann, the JPL engineer who oversaw Psyche’s dynamics testing, said in the same statement.

An illustration shows the probe approaching Psyche. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arizona State Univ./Space Systems Loral/Peter Rubin)
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Only a handful of people are allowed in the clean room to reduce the chance of exporting Earth's bacteria to space. A handful of media were allowed a glimpse April 11, but they needed to complete strict procedures before getting close.

"Reporters wiped down their equipment with isopropyl alcohol, and donned protective smocks and hair coverings, before entering the High Bay 2 clean room," stated JPL on April 11, the same day as the visit.

The next stop for Psyche will be NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, to prepare for a launch at nearby Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. The mission is expected to launch in August, swing past Mars nine months later to pick up speed, and then arrive at the asteroid in 2026.

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Elizabeth Howell
Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a contributing writer for Space.com since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she tackles topics like spaceflight, diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Her latest book, NASA Leadership Moments, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.