Why Does the Psyche Spacecraft Use Cold Gas Thrusters?

The Psyche spacecraft, scheduled to launch in 2022, is an exciting mission that aims to explore a unique metallic asteroid called Psyche. This asteroid is made almost entirely of iron and nickel, and scientists believe that it could be the exposed core of a protoplanet.

One of the crucial components of the Psyche spacecraft is its propulsion system, which includes a set of cold gas thrusters. In this blog post, we will explore why the Psyche spacecraft relies on cold gas thrusters and how they help in its mission.

What are Cold Gas Thrusters?

Cold gas thrusters are a type of propulsion system that uses pressurized gas, typically nitrogen, to generate thrust. Unlike traditional rocket engines, which rely on the combustion of propellants, cold gas thrusters do not involve any chemical reactions. Instead, they simply expel the pressurized gas to create propulsion.

There are several advantages to using cold gas thrusters:

  • Simplicity: Cold gas thrusters are relatively simple and lightweight compared to other propulsion systems. They have fewer moving parts and do not require complex fuel storage or combustion systems.
  • Safety: Since cold gas thrusters do not involve combustion, they are inherently safer than rocket engines that rely on highly flammable propellants.
  • Controllability: Cold gas thrusters provide precise control over thrust and can be easily throttled up or down as needed. This level of controllability is crucial for delicate maneuvers and fine adjustments in space missions.

Why Does the Psyche Spacecraft Use Cold Gas Thrusters?

The main reason the Psyche spacecraft uses cold gas thrusters is to protect the valuable scientific instruments on board. The metallic asteroid Psyche is believed to have a weak gravitational pull, making it challenging to land or maneuver on its surface. Using traditional rocket engines with high thrust could potentially damage the spacecraft or disturb the delicate instruments.

Cold gas thrusters provide the necessary thrust for the Psyche spacecraft while ensuring minimal disturbance to its surroundings. They allow for precise control and gentle maneuvers that are crucial for a successful mission.

Additionally, the simplicity and safety of cold gas thrusters make them an ideal choice for long-duration missions like Psyche. The spacecraft will travel for several years to reach its destination, and the reliability of the propulsion system is of utmost importance.


The choice to use cold gas thrusters in the Psyche spacecraft is a testament to the careful planning and consideration that goes into designing space missions. These thrusters provide the necessary thrust while ensuring the safety and controllability required for a successful exploration of the metallic asteroid Psyche.

As we eagerly await the launch of the Psyche spacecraft, we can appreciate the role that cold gas thrusters play in enabling the mission’s scientific objectives. They are a remarkable example of how innovative propulsion systems contribute to the advancement of space exploration.

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