Metal Meets Milestone: The Countdown to Psyche’s Historic Launch

SpaceX Falcon Heavy Rocket With the Psyche Spacecraft Onboard

A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket with the Psyche spacecraft onboard is seen at Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A on Thursday, October 12, 2023. Psyche is targeted to launch from the Florida spaceport at 10:19 a.m. EDT Friday, October 13. Credit: SpaceX

Moments ago, mission teams polled “go” to begin fueling the Falcon Heavy’s three first-stage core boosters.

The Falcon Heavy is a two-stage rocket with a central core and two side boosters that uses RP-1 (a refined kerosene) and liquid oxygen (LOX) to fuel its 27 Merlin engines, which combine to generate 5,000,000 pounds of thrust. Loading of the RP-1 and LOX is now underway.

Psyche Spacecraft SpaceX Falcon Heavy Rocket

A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket with the Psyche spacecraft onboard is ready for launch at Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A on Friday, October 13, 2023. Credit: NASA Television

We’re about 45 minutes away from today’s launch of NASA’s Psyche mission from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Here’s a closer look at some of today’s important countdown and ascent milestones (all times are approximate):

Time               Events

– 00:53:00      SpaceX Launch Director verifies go for propellant load
– 00:50:00      1st stage RP-1 (rocket grade kerosene) loading begins
– 00:45:00      1st stage LOX (liquid oxygen) loading begins
– 00:35:00      2nd stage RP-1 loading begins
– 00:18:30       2nd stage LOX loading begins
– 00:07:00      Falcon Heavy begins engine chill
– 00:00:59      Flight computer commanded to begin final pre-launch checks
– 00:00:45      SpaceX Launch Director verifies go for launch
– 00:00:20      Propellant tanks pressurize for flight
– 00:00:06      Engine controller commands engine ignition sequence to start
00:00:00         Falcon Heavy liftoff
00:01:09         Max Q (Moment of peak mechanical stress on the rocket)
00:02:25         Side boosters engine cutoff (BECO)
00:02:28         Side boosters separate
00:02:40         Side boosters boostback burns begin
00:03:51          Side boosters boostback burns end
00:03:55         1st stage main engine cutoff (MECO)
00:03:59         1st and 2nd stages separate
00:04:04        2nd stage engine starts (SES)
00:04:24         Fairing deployment
00:06:47         Side boosters entry burns start
00:07:04         Side boosters entry burns end
00:08:00         Side boosters landing burns start
00:08:17         Side boosters landing
00:08:26         2nd stage engine cutoff (SECO-1)
00:54:00         2nd stage engine starts (SES-2)
00:56:12         2nd stage engine cutoff (SECO-2)
01:02:24         Psyche spacecraft deploys

NASA Psyche Mission

The NASA Psyche Mission is an exploration initiative to study the metal-rich asteroid named Psyche, believed to be the exposed core of a primordial planet. Situated between Mars and Jupiter, this mission aims to offer insights into planetary formation and the early dynamics of our solar system. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arizona State Univ./Space Systems Loral/Peter Rubin

NASA’s Psyche Mission

NASA’s Psyche Mission is a groundbreaking initiative targeted at exploring and understanding a unique metal-rich asteroid, aptly named Psyche. This asteroid stands out from the rest because, unlike the majority that are made of rock or ice, Psyche is primarily composed of metallic iron and nickel. Intriguingly, scientists speculate that Psyche might actually be the naked core of a planet that didn’t fully materialize.

Positioned within the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, Psyche offers a one-of-a-kind opportunity to delve deep into the history of our solar system and unravel the mysteries of planet formation. By studying this asteroid, scientists hope to gain insights into the violent processes of collisions, accretion, and core exposure that might have sculpted terrestrial planets like Earth.

The spacecraft designated for this mission is armed with sophisticated instruments including magnetometers, multispectral imagers, and gamma-ray and neutron spectrometers. These instruments will work in tandem to provide a detailed analysis of the asteroid’s composition, age, and possibly even its origin. Part of NASA’s Discovery Program, the Psyche Mission embodies the program’s goal of deepening our understanding of the solar system’s evolutionary journey.

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