The Psyche probe on its way to an atypical asteroid
The Psyche probe on its way to an atypical asteroid
© Aubrey Gemignani / NASA

The Psyche probe on its way to an atypical asteroid

For the first time, an interplanetary probe has set off to explore a world made not of rock or ice, but of metal.

A precious object

Despite an inauspicious weather forecast the day before, a Falcon Heavy launch vehicle from SpaceX blasted off at 14:19 UTC on October 13 from Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

On board is the Psyche probe, which is due to rendezvous in 2029 with the metallic asteroid (16) Psyche, one of the ten most massive asteroids in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

The object is 226 km wide, and is likely to have a core of iron, nickel and gold.

The mission is being conducted under the responsibility of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, in association with Arizona State University.


More than five years of travel

Now in transit, the Psyche probe will use the gravity slingshot around Mars in 2026, to orbit its target in 2029.

His scientific mission, at different latitudes, is scheduled to last 21 months.

The aim is to identify the characteristics (formation, composition and evolution) of this atypical asteroid.

To do this, the probe is carrying a multispectral imager, gamma and neutron spectrometers, and a magnetometer.

It will also serve as a testbed for an optical communication system.


Another first

This was the first time Nasa had used SpaceX's super-heavy launcher, which for the occasion made its eighth flight since February 2018 - the fourth this year.

As always this year, the center stage was new, while the side stages were " proven ", already used three times each.

Both returned to land smoothly on the nearby military base at Cape Canaveral.

Like a parade, again and again.

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