SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy Successfully Launches NASA Psyche Mission to Asteroid

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.

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.

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