SpaceX’s powerful Falcon Heavy rocket has successfully launched to send NASA’s Psyche to a distant, metal-rich asteroid for exploration. Both of its boosters landed synchronously on the pads after completing the task.
NASA’s large Psyche spacecraft is now heading toward the metal-rich asteroid, following the launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy earlier today. The powerful rocket blasted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at 10:19 a.m. EST. The Psyche spacecraft successfully separated from the Falcon Heavy upper stage just over an hour after liftoff. NASA engineers made contact with it shortly before noon. The NASA-SpaceX contract is worth about $131 million.
Slo-mo video of Falcon Heavy launching off the pad pic.twitter.com/3CjTkPiM21
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) October 13, 2023
The Psyche spacecraft embarked on a six-year, 2.2 billion-mile journey to its namesake asteroid Psyche. It sits in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. While en route to its destination, the spacecraft will conduct a technology demonstration of the Deep Space Optical Communications experiment. If the demonstration is successful, it will be the first time optical communications have been demonstrated outside the Earth-Moon system.
Psyche will reach Mars in May 2026 to use its gravitational field to propel itself toward a target asteroid. After reaching its destination, the spacecraft will spend 26 months orbiting the metal-rich asteroid. It will study the space object: take multispectral images, map the asteroid’s surface, and study its chemical and mineral composition. In addition, the spacecraft will study the gravitational fields of the asteroid and high-energy particles.
NASA’s Launch Services Program selected Falcon Heavy after labeling Psyche a “Category 3” mission. NASA will use Falcon Heavy for other missions in the coming years.