SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy successfully launched NASA’s Psyche spacecraft on Friday morning, completing the second-ever interplanetary mission for the rocket, with the first being the Tesla Roadster.
Liftoff officially happened at 10:19 A.M. EDT, as Falcon Heavy’s 27 first-stage Merlin engines launched NASA’s Psyche probe toward an asteroid under the same name. Psyche won’t reach the asteroid until July 2029, according to Space.com.
“This is the beginning of a suite of amazing science missions we have coming up on Falcon Heavy,” Julianna Scheiman, Director of Civil Satellite Missions at SpaceX, said during a post-launch briefing.
The probe will travel 2.2 billion miles over its six-year journey.
About 150 seconds after launch, Falcon Heavy’s side boosters cut their engines off, detached from the central core stage, and made their way back to Florida.
Four minutes after liftoff, the core booster shut down and separated from the Falcon Heavy’s second stage. This was responsible for carrying Psyche the rest of the way to orbital escape velocity, Space.com said.
The core booster was not saved as others have been in the past. Instead, SpaceX allotted maximum fuel as Psyche’s trajectory needed to be ensured. The core was destroyed and is in the sea.
By the eighth minute post-liftoff, Falcon Heavy’s side boosters activated their landing burns and touched down a few seconds later at SpaceX’s Landing Zones 1 and 2, which are “several miles downrange from Pad 39A.”
It took just over 62 minutes for Psyche to be deployed from Falcon Heavy’s upper stage.
The Psyche Asteroid is one of the most metal-rich in our solar system, and NASA Science Mission Directorate Nicola Fox talked about the agency’s mission recently:
“Psyche is by far the largest, and that’s why we want to go to it because the smaller ones are more likely to have been changed by things impacting them, whereas the big one, we think, is going to be completely unchanged.”
The Psyche Asteroid measures 173 miles across and 144 miles long. Its exact appearance is unknown, but scientists know it’s covered in nickel and iron.
Once NASA’s Psyche probe reaches the asteroid, it will be responsible for 21 months of mapping and analyzing the surface.
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