SpaceX Launches NASA’s Psyche Bound for Asteroid Mission

It will take the Psyche spacecraft about six years to travel the estimated 2.2 billion miles to reach the metal-rich asteroid targeted for study.

A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket, with the Psyche spacecraft onboard, takes off from Launch Complex 39A on Friday, October 13, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. [Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani]

NASA's Psyche spacecraft, on board a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket, lifted off at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Friday morning. Its final destination: the metal-rich asteroid bearing the spacecraft's name about 2.2 billion miles away.

The 10:19 a.m. EDT launch was the first NASA mission aboard the Falcon Heavy but the fourth launch for side boosters, both of which previously supported the USSF-44, USSF-67, and Hughes Jupiter 3 missions, according to SpaceX.

The space agency’s mission is to study the estimated 173-mile-wide asteroid composed of more metal than rock or ice. But the minivan-sized spacecraft powered by solar-electric propulsion won't reach its target anytime soon.

"Asteroid Psyche’s gravity will capture the spacecraft in late July 2029, and Psyche will begin its prime mission in August," NASA said. "It will spend about two years orbiting the asteroid to take pictures, map the surface, and collect data to determine Psyche’s composition."

NASA's Psyche spacecraft takes a spiral path to asteroid Psyche, as depicted in this graphic that shows the route from above the plane of the planets, labeled with key milestones of the prime mission. [Credit: NASA]

The mineral composition of Psyche could offer clues about how Earth's core, as well as the cores of other terrestrial planets, came to be, according to NASA.

Kimberly is managing editor of FLYING Digital.

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