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NASA announced that SpaceX was awarded the launch service contract to conduct the Psyche mission. The company's Falcon Heavy rocket will perform a journey towards a metal-rich asteroid named Psyche, which orbits the sun, located between Mars and Jupiter. SpaceX announced today:
"Falcon Heavy will launch NASA Psyche! The mission, for which NASA requires the highest level of launch vehicle reliability, will study a metal asteroid between Mars and Jupiter to help humanity better understand the formation of our solar system’s planets."
Falcon Heavy will launch @NASAPsyche! The mission, for which @NASA requires the highest level of launch vehicle reliability, will study a metal asteroid between Mars and Jupiter to help humanity better understand the formation of our solar system’s planets https://t.co/mvrgx6dvaW pic.twitter.com/FqMaRKscQ4— SpaceX (@SpaceX) February 28, 2020
SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket is a high capacity orbital-class rocket, its the world's most powerful rocket's in operation capable of lifting payload into deep space. The Psyche mission is scheduled for July 2022. Falcon Heavy will liftoff from Launch Complex 39A at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, carrying the Psyche spacecraft towards the Psyche asteroid.
NASA astronomers believe that the 130-mile diameter Psyche asteroid could offer insight into the early years of our solar system because it appears to be composed of one of the building blocks of our solar system. It is 95% metal, believed to be a nickel-iron core of an early planet. Terrestrial planets like Earth, have metallic cores lying below the rocky surface, deep within rocky mantles. On Earth scientist's can't really dig too deep to study the core because machinery would melt. So, the mission could offer insight of how planets' evolve. NASA explains:
"Because we cannot see or measure Earth’s core directly, the mission to Psyche offers a unique window into the violent history of collisions and accretion that created terrestrial planets."
SpaceX launch services will be managed by NASA’s Launch Services Program at Kennedy Space Center in Florida and the mission will be led by Arizona State University. In a statement when the mission was announced Principal Investigator of Arizona State University Lindy Elkins said:
"With the transition into this new mission phase, we are one big step closer to uncovering the secrets of Psyche, a giant mysterious metallic asteroid, and that means the world to us."
Two additional secondary payloads will hitch a ride atop Falcon Heavy's fairing during the Psyche mission. These, will be deployed to perform different kind of research. One of the crafts, is the Escape and Plasma Acceleration and Dynamics Explorers (EscaPADE) which will study Mars' atmosphere. The other is called Janus, designed to study binary asteroids. The total cost for NASA to launch Psyche and the secondary payloads is approximately $117 million, which is cheap compared to other companies conducting similar missions.
About the Author
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.