NASA, SpaceX prepare for launch: Psyche mission aims to land on a metal-rich asteroid

(NEXSTAR) — The launch of NASA’s first mission to study an asteroid that has more metal than rock or ice is in its final countdown.

Watch the pre-launch mission and science update in the video above.

The space agency is targeting Thursday, Oct. 12 to send its Psyche spacecraft up toward the stars aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket. If all goes well, the van-sized craft will spend nearly six years traveling to one of the largest asteroids in the solar system, also named Psyche, according to NASA.

Nexstar Media also plans to livestream Thursday’s launch. Watch your local site for live coverage.

The current mission timeline aims to put NASA’s craft into orbit around the asteroid in late July 2029. At that point the actual mission will begin: two years of photo taking, surface mapping, and data collection to determine Psyche’s composition.

The asteroid is about 173 miles in diameter at its widest point and spends its time orbiting the sun in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Some scientists believe it could be an exposed core of a small planet which, if true, could provide “a one-of-a-kind window into the violent history of collisions and accumulation of matter that created planets like our own,” according to the mission website.

Here is a bit more about the asteroid as written by NASA:

Psyche was discovered in 1852 by Italian astronomer Annibale de Gasparis. Because it was the 16th asteroid to be discovered, it is sometimes referred to as 16 Psyche. It’s named for the goddess of the soul in ancient Greek mythology, often depicted as a butterfly-winged female figure.

Psyche orbits the Sun in the outer part of the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. It is approximately three times farther from the Sun than Earth. Because Psyche and Earth orbit at different speeds, the distance from Earth to Psyche varies from less than 186 million miles to more than 372 million miles.

Psyche is dense, estimated at about 212 to 256 pounds per cubic foot (3,400 to 4,100 kilograms per cubic meter). The surface gravity on Psyche is much less than it is on Earth – even less than it is on Earth’s Moon. On Psyche, lifting a car would feel like lifting a large dog.

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