Today, NASA is launching the first-ever mission to a metal-rich asteroid. Being Friday 13, here's hoping luck is on their side. The Psyche spacecraft will travel 3.5 billion kilometers (2.2 billion miles) to visit its namesake, asteroid Psyche, thought to be the most expensive known asteroid.
A metallic and silicate asteroid, potentially up to 60 percent of Psyche is made of metal. This is so much metal that for a long time it was thought Psyche was the fully metallic core of an almost-planet that was then broken apart in collisions.
The asteroid's origin is now believed to be more complex but to solve this mystery, we’ll need a spacecraft to get up close to find out. Psyche the spacecraft won’t reach Psyche the asteroid until 2029, but then hopefully it will start to spill its secrets.
When is the Psyche mission launching?
The current schedule is NASA's Psyche spacecraft will launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket today October 13, 2023. The launch window opens at 10:19 am EDT (2:19 pm UTC).
It will go on a slow trek across the inner Solar System, passing by Mars in May 2026 for a gravity assist. The foray near the Red Planet will give it a boost to travel all the way to the other edge of the main asteroid belt, where Psyche resides.
What is the Psyche mission studying?
The spacecraft is the size of a small van and it is equipped with a variety of instruments to fully understand the composition of the asteroid, and with that, its origin.
The spacecraft will reach the asteroid in July 2029 with the goal of starting the science mission the following month. The primary mission will last for two years where Psyche the spacecraft will take pictures, map the surface, and unveil the chemistry of Psyche the asteroid.
The spacecraft has also got a side mission. Attached to it is a technology demonstration: NASA’s Deep Space Optical Communications. This system aims to test the use of lasers to transmit communication with high bandwidth beyond the orbit of the Moon. This could mean more data sent back to Earth by deep-space missions. The system will be tested in the first two years of travel but won’t be used in the primary mission.
How to watch the Psyche mission launch today
NASA will be streaming a live launch broadcast with commentary from 9:30 am EDT (1:30 pm UTC) today, October 13. The launch window opens at 10.19 am EDT (2:19 pm UTC) so showtime should be around then.
“The team has worked tirelessly to prepare the spacecraft for its journey to a one-of-a-kind asteroid,” said Henry Stone, Psyche’s project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.
“All spacecraft systems, science instruments, and software have been integrated and extensively tested, and the spacecraft is fully configured for flight. We look forward to the launch and – more importantly – to accomplishing the mission’s objectives, marking yet another historic voyage of scientific discovery.”