NASA has successfully launched its Psyche spacecraft on a mission to visit a metal asteroid. The spacecraft launched in spectacular fashion from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 10:19 a.m. ET today, Friday October 13.
The spacecraft, which has a mass of just over 6,000 pounds at launch, made it through Earth’s atmosphere and separated from the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket’s second stage around an hour after launch, a process that is shown in the video below:
Around 70 minutes after launch, a carrier signal was received from the spacecraft at mission control. That signal confirms that the spacecraft is in space and on its journey. The team will now wait for the telemetry signal, expected in the next few hours, which will confirm that full communications between the spacecraft and the ground are operational. The spacecraft is also carrying a new communications experiment called DSOC that will be tested on the journey.
The spacecraft will now deploy its solar arrays as it travels on its 2.2 billion-mile journey to the asteroid, which is also named Psyche and is located in the main asteroid belt of our solar system between Mars and Jupiter. The spacecraft will take a spiral path away from the Earth, getting gradually further and further away and receiving a gravity assist when it passes by Mars in 2026. It is expected to reach the asteroid in 2029, when it will go into orbit around it and stay there for two years to study it.
The aim of the mission is for Psyche to investigate the metal asteroid by taking photos, mapping out its surface, and determining its composition. The high levels of metal in the asteroid suggest that it could be the core of a rocky planet, called a planetesimal, which could be similar to Earth’s development as a rocky planet with its own metallic core.
“I am excited to see the treasure trove of science Psyche will unlock as NASA’s first mission to a metal world,” said Nicola Fox, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, in a statement. “By studying asteroid Psyche, we hope to better understand our universe and our place in it, especially regarding the mysterious and impossible to reach metal core of our own home planet, Earth.”
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