For the first time, an interplanetary probe has launched to explore a world made not of rock or ice, but of metal.
A precious object
Despite unfavorable weather forecasts the day before, a launcher Falcon Heavy of SpaceX launched on October 13 at 2:19 p.m. UTC from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida.
On board, the probe Psychewhich is due to join theasteroid metallic (16) Psyche, one of the ten most massive asteroids in the asteroid belt located between March And Jupiter.
The object is 226 km wide, and probably has a core of iron, nickel and gold.
The mission is carried out under the responsibility of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) of the NASAin Pasadena, California, in association with Arizona State University.
More than five years of travel
Now in transit, the Psyche probe will use the gravitational slingshot around Mars in 2026, to place itself in orbit around its target in 2029.
Its scientific mission, at different latitudes, will last 21 months.
The objective is to identify the characteristics (formation, composition and evolution) of this atypical asteroid.
To do this, the probe carries a multispectral imager, gamma and neutron spectrometers, and a magnetometer.
It will also serve as a test bench for an optical communications system.
This is the first time that NASA has used SpaceX’s super heavy launcher, which for the occasion made its eighth flight since February 2018 – the fourth this year.
As every time this year, the central floor was new, while the side floors were “tried and tested”, already used three times each.
Both returned to land gently on the nearby military base at Cape Canaveral.
Like on parade, again and again.