NASA has selected the SpaceX Falcon Heavy to carry the agency’s Psyche mission. The mission will explore an asteroid orbiting the Sun between Mars and Jupiter that appears to be the core of an early planet.
In a February 28 press release, NASA announced that it had awarded the $170 million Psyche launch contract to SpaceX. The contact selects the launch provider’s Falcon Heavy rocket to carry the Psyche spacecraft and two additional secondary payloads.
The Psyche mission is expected to be launched from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in July 2022. The main spacecraft will journey to a unique exposed nickel-iron asteroid that is believed to be the core of an early planet. It is hoped that the study of this asteroid will offer unique insight into “the violent history of collisions and accretion that created terrestrial planets.”
In addition to the main payload, the mission will also carry the Escape and Plasma Acceleration and Dynamics Explorer (EscaPADE), and the Janus: Reconnaissance Missions to Binary Asteroids payloads. EscaPADE will examine the Martian atmosphere, which will include studying how the “atmosphere responds to the constant outflow of solar wind.” Janus will be tasked with building an accurate model of two binary asteroid bodies, which are systems of two asteroids orbiting a common center of mass.
With the addition of the NASA Psyche mission, SpaceX now has a manifest of four missions for the heavy-lift Falcon Heavy. The rocket will carry two classified US Air Force satellites in late 2020 and early 2021, and ViatSat-3 for the California-based communications provider Viasat in mid-2021.