Psyche. Credit: SSL artist's concept.

WASHINGTON — Should a proposed probe to a metallic asteroid win NASA funding next year, Space Systems/Loral will provide the spacecraft’s structure and propulsion system, the Palo Alto, California, satellite manufacturer said in an Oct. 26 press release.

SSL would provide one of its 1300 series spacecraft buses, equipped with a solar electric propulsion system, for Psyche: one of five finalists in NASA’s latest Discovery series of competitively awarded planetary science missions.

Psyche would be led by principal investigator Linda Elkins-Tanton, a professor at Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration in Tempe, Arizona. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, would be the lead NASA center on the project.

SSL is primarily known as a builder of large, geostationary-orbiting telecommunications satellites for commercial customers. But the company has done occasional work for NASA in recent years, including providing the propulsion system for the agency’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer, which ended a successful moon-mapping mission in 2014. The company also has been selected for studies on NASA’s proposed Asteroid Redirect Robotic Mission.

Five finalists are vying for the latest round of Discovery funding. In September 2016, NASA will select either one or two of these missions for launch around 2020. Whether the agency selects one or two winners depends on available budgets.

Dan Leone is a SpaceNews staff writer, covering NASA, NOAA and a growing number of entrepreneurial space companies. He earned a bachelor’s degree in public communications from the American University in Washington.