Psyche Set To Soar: NASA’s Date With a Metal-Rich Asteroid

Psyche Spacecraft at the Asteroid Psyche (Illustration)

This illustration depicts NASA’s Psyche spacecraft. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU

Now that fueling and testing are complete, NASA’s Psyche spacecraft is ready to meet its ride – a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket. The launch is now targeting 10:34 a.m. EDT on Thursday, October 5 from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida after optimizing the trajectory for the mission to study a metal-rich asteroid.

Craft Integration

Technicians connected Psyche to the payload attach fitting at Astrotech Space Operations facility in Titusville, Florida. This hardware allows Psyche to connect to the top of the rocket once it’s secure inside the protective payload fairings.

Technicians Work on NASA’s Psyche Spacecraft

Technicians connect NASA’s Psyche spacecraft to the payload attach fitting inside the clean room at Astrotech Space Operations facility in Titusville, Florida on Wednesday, September 20, 2023. Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Mission Objective

Psyche’s journey through space will last nearly six years and about 2.2 billion miles (3.6 billion kilometers) before reaching an asteroid of the same name, which is orbiting the Sun between Mars and Jupiter. Scientists believe Psyche could be part of the core of a planetesimal, likely made of iron-nickel metal. The ore will not be mined but studied from orbit in hopes of giving researchers a better idea of what may make up Earth’s core.

Innovative Onboard Technology

Additionally, the Psyche spacecraft will host a pioneering technology demonstration: NASA’s DSOC (Deep Space Optical Communications) experiment. This laser communications system will test high-bandwidth optical communications to Earth for the first two years of Psyche’s journey.

Falcon Heavy Demo Mission

SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy test flight launches from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on February 6, 2018. Credit: SpaceX

About SpaceX Falcon Heavy

SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy is a powerful and partially reusable heavy-lift launch vehicle, conceived by Elon Musk’s space exploration company. Essentially an amalgamation of three Falcon 9 first-stage cores, the Falcon Heavy boasts a staggering 27 engines that fire simultaneously at liftoff. With the capability to transport up to 64 metric tons to Low Earth Orbit (LEO), it ranks among the most potent rockets in operation today.

A hallmark feature of the Falcon Heavy, in line with SpaceX’s broader philosophy, is its reusability. After stage separation, its cores are designed to return, land, and be prepared for future flights.

The rocket made its debut on February 6, 2018, carrying an unconventional payload: Elon Musk’s red Tesla Roadster, with “Starman,” a mannequin, seated inside. This car now orbits the sun.

Designed for diverse missions, from deploying satellites to potential interplanetary ventures, the Falcon Heavy stands as a significant milestone in modern space technology.

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