NASA has announced that SpaceX will launch its Psyche mission on its Falcon Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida. The mission isn’t scheduled to launch for a couple of years, according to NASA, which explains that it is targeting an asteroid named Psyche that is full of metals, primarily nickel-iron. This same launch will also include two other payloads.
Psyche is a massive asteroid that has a minor planet designation; it is unique among many other known massive asteroids because it may be the exposed nickel-iron core of an early planet, according to NASA, which describes this chunk of celestial metal as a building block of the solar system.
Planets like Earth are believed to have metallic cores, but it obviously isn’t possible for scientists to peer down through the crusts and mantles to see what lies within. That’s where Psyche comes in. NASA says the asteroid will provide scientists with a unique opportunity to understand the processes that helped lead up to the creation of a planet.
Though NASA JPL will be managing the mission, the space agency says that it is being led by Arizona State University. Among other things, the mission will look into whether Psyche actually is a core, as well as how old it is, its topography, how it formed, and whether it has the same light elements that are believed to reside in the Earth’s core.
At this point in time, NASA expects to launch the mission in 2022 with an estimated 3.5-year cruise time and eventual 2026 arrival date. In addition to the Psyche mission, SpaceX will also launch the payloads Janus to study binary asteroids and Escape and Plasma Acceleration and Dynamics Explorers (EscaPADE) to study Mars’ atmosphere.