CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida — NASA’s Psyche spacecraft launched this morning (Oct. 13) from Pad 39A here at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC). The asteroid-bound probe lifted off atop a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket, marking a list of firsts for NASA and the launch vehicle.
Not including SpaceX CEO Elon Musk‘s Tesla Roadster, which launched past the orbit of Mars on Falcon Heavy’s debut test flight in February 2018, Psyche is the rocket’s first official interplanetary mission. It is also the first NASA mission to launch on a Falcon Heavy.
Liftoff occurred at today 10:19 a.m. EDT (1419 GMT). The triple-booster rocket ignited all 27 of its first-stage Merlin engines, which produce up to 5 million pounds of thrust at liftoff, lofting Psyche skyward to begin its 2.2 billion-mile (3.5 billion kilometers) journey to its celestial namesake, a bizarre metallic space rock in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
Related: The Psyche mission: A visit to a metal asteroid
A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket launches NASA’s Psyche asteroid probe on a mission to the largest metal asteroid in our solar system. (Image credit: Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images)Just under 2.5 minutes into launch, Falcon Heavy’s side boosters cut off their engines, detached from the central core stage, and headed back to Florida’s Space Coast to perform simultaneous landings.
Following suit about four minutes after liftoff, Falcon Heavy’s core booster shut down its first-stage engines and separated from the rocket’s second stage, which was tasked with carrying Psyche the rest of the way to orbital escape velocity.
Rather than attempting to land the core booster on one of SpaceX’s autonomous drone ships in the Atlantic Ocean, maximum fuel was allotted to ensure Psyche’s nominal trajectory, and the never-before-flown core was left to careen to its destructive fate in the depths of the sea.
The Psyche spacecraft lifts off atop a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket on Oct. 13, 2023. (Image…