SpaceX Launches NASA’s Mission to Metal World

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Update: October, 13, 11:17 a.m. ET: Psyche is finally in space. The Falcon Heavy lifted off on time, sending the probe on its 2.2 billion-mile journey to a highly metallic asteroid.

Update: October, 13, 8:45 a.m. ET: U.S. Space Force’s 45th Weather Squadron is now predicting an 85% chance of favorable weather for today’s launch attempt. “Teams continue targeting liftoff of NASA’s Psyche mission at 10:19 a.m. EDT from Kennedy’s Launch Complex 39A,” NASA says. “The primary weather concern for the launch area is the cumulus cloud rule.” The space agency’s live launch broadcast is scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m., which you can watch on NASA TV or via the live stream provided below.

Update: October 12, 8:58 a.m. ET: Launch teams are now targeting launch at 10:19 a.m. ET on Friday, October 13.

Update: October 12, 8:10 a.m. ET: SpaceX bumped the launch to Friday morning, October 13 due to unfavorable weather conditions.

Original article follows.

A NASA spacecraft is about to embark on a 2.2 billion mile journey through space to reach a rare, metal-rich asteroid beyond the orbit of Mars.

The Psyche mission is set to launch on Thursday at 10:16 a.m. ET, if weather conditions permit; the latest forecast predicts a 20% chance of favorable weather conditions at launch.

The spacecraft will ride on board a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket, which will liftoff from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The launch will be broadcast live through NASA’s YouTube Channel, as well as the space agency’s website and app. You can also tune in through the feed below. Live coverage will begin at 9:15 a.m. ET.

NASA Live: Official Stream of NASA TV

“This is the first mission to explore a planetary body that the observations have indicated is primarily made of metal,” Carol Polanskey, NASA’s project scientist for Psyche, told Gizmodo in a phone interview. “There are so many unknowns about its actual shape and its gravity field and its spin axis.”

The Psyche mission will rendezvous with a metallic space rock in the main asteroid belt. Psyche is a 140-mile-wide (226 kilometer) asteroid that orbits the Sun between Mars and Jupiter. Scientists believe Psyche might be the stripped down core of a shattered planetesimal, one of the building blocks that come together to form a planet.

An illustration of the Psyche spacecraft.
Illustration: NASA

“Psyche in particular is interesting because it looks like it could very well be an early growing planet…that had already gotten to the point where it had melted and allowed metallic material to go to the core and have a rocky surface similar to other bodies in the solar system,” Polanskey said. “But then, luckily for us, those exterior rocks were potentially stripped away by impact, revealing that internal core.”

“[The mission] is sort of like our view into the material that was out there originally, which came together to form the planets,” she added.

Related article: What to Know About NASA’s Unprecedented Psyche Mission to a Metallic Asteroid

The Psyche spacecraft will orbit around its target, armed with a multispectral imager, a gamma-ray and neutron spectrometer, a magnetometer, and a radio instrument to map the asteroid, according to NASA. Based on the probe’s early observations, scientists will begin getting a sense of the asteroid’s size and shape, and begin building up a picture of what Psyche is, according to Polanskey.

Psyche will travel around 2.2 billion miles to reach the main asteroid belt. If all goes well, the spacecraft will enter asteroid Psyche’s orbit in late July 2029 and begin its mission in August of the same year.

A week before its original launch date on October 5, engineers discovered an issue with the Psyche spacecraft’s thrusters that could have caused it to overheat during its eight-year mission. As a result, the mission’s liftoff date was delayed by one week as the team resolved the issue.

The mission has launch opportunities every day until October 25.

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