Just off a tree-covered side road past businesses selling boats and fishing gear sits a fenced-off building that’s home to a $700 million satellite nearly ready for launch. Its mission: To study the metal-rich asteroid Psyche, which scientists suspect could mirror the inner core of Earth and other planets in the solar system.
The probe, which also is named Psyche, awaits an October trip to the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center. But after missing a chance to launch in 2022, NASA parked it at the Astrotech Space Operations Facility across the river where it has been sitting in the center of the stark, white clean room.
With its solar panels installed this month, teams are finally set to load it with the fuel needed to send it on its 2.5-billion-mile trip to the asteroid orbiting the sun between Mars and Jupiter.
Liftoff on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy from KSC’s Launch Complex 39-A is targeting as soon as Oct. 5 with a window that stretches until Oct. 23. It’s not slated to arrive at Psyche, which can range from 235 million to 309 million miles away from Earth until August 2029, and only then will it get down to the business of figuring out what’s special about the distant asteroid.
The Psyche mission principal investigator, Lindy Elkins-Tanton, also a professor at Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration, says Psyche could hold answers about how life was able to flourish on Earth.
“One of the key characteristics of our Earth is the metal core, which gives us our magnetic field, which shields our atmosphere and all the other great things the magnetic field does for us, including giving us auroras and the beautiful night sky,” she said. “And it’s long been humans’ dream to go to the metal core of our Earth. I mean, ask Jules…
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