NASA has successfully launched its Psyche mission, sending a spacecraft on a 2.5 billion-mile journey to a metal-rich asteroid unlike any we’ve studied up close before.
We have liftoff: After severe weather conditions forced NASA to postpone the launch for one day, the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket carrying the Psyche mission successfully lifted off at the Kennedy Space Center at 10:19 a.m. Eastern Time on October 13.
A few minutes later, the rocket’s upper and lower stages separated, and SpaceX successfully recovered the side booster with another rocket. Impressive upright landing 8 minutes after liftoff.
Just over an hour after launch, the Psyche spacecraft separated from the rocket’s upper stage.Minutes later, NASA confirmed Communicating Together with this spacecraft, it is expected to reach the asteroid 16 Psyche in 2029.
Why Psyche? When the asteroid Psyche was first discovered by Italian astronomer Annibale de Gasparis in 1852, it was the 16th asteroid discovered (hence its official name: 16 Psyche).
Weekly newsletter as we count down the days Biggest developments in space. Humanity is reaching new heights in space exploration. Subscribe to T-Minus to ensure you’re part of the journey.
Since then, astronomers have discovered about a million other asteroids, but most are made of rock and ice. Psyche is the largest metal-rich asteroid we have ever seen, suggesting it may be part of the core of a “planetoid” (the building block of a planet).
“Humans cannot carve a path into the core of our planet or the cores of other rocky planets, so visiting Psyche can provide a unique window into the violent history of collisions and accumulation of matter that created planets like this Planet our own,” NASA wrote.
Looking to the future: Although 16 Psyche’s orbit puts it 142 million miles closer to Earth, the Psyche mission will take an energy-efficient 2.5 billion mile path to the asteroid in 2029.
Once at its destination, Psyche will spend 26 months orbiting the metal-rich asteroid, using its array of instruments to collect data that will help astronomers determine whether it is part of the core of a planetesimal, or perhaps Something else.
“I’m excited to see the treasure trove of science that Psyche will unlock as NASA’s first mission to the metallic world,” said Nicola Fox, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.
“By studying asteroid Psyche, we hope to better understand our universe and our place in it, especially about the mysterious and inaccessible metallic core of our own home planet,” she continued.
We’d love to hear from you!If you have any comments about this article, or if you have any suggestions for future Freethink stories, please email (email protected).