There are all sorts of oddities out in the depths of our solar system, and one of the most intriguing is a strange metal asteroid called Psyche. At 140 miles across, it’s one of the largest asteroids in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, and it is the only asteroid discovered to date that could be composed entirely of iron and nickel.
That makes Psyche a valuable target for research because it could teach us about how planets like Earth — which has a metal core — formed and evolved. To learn more about this unusual asteroid, NASA will soon be launching a mission, also called Psyche, to visit the asteroid and spend 21 months orbiting it.
With the launch of the mission scheduled for August 1 this year, using a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, the Psyche spacecraft is being prepared for its liftoff and long journey. Recently, the spacecraft was moved to a special facility at Kennedy where it is being tested and made ready for its big debut.
“Since its arrival on April 29, the Psyche spacecraft has moved into the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where technicians removed it from its protective shipping container, rotated it to vertical, and have begun the final steps to prepare the spacecraft for launch,” NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory wrote in an update.
“In the coming months, crews will perform a range of work including reinstalling solar arrays, reintegrating a radio, testing the telecommunications system, loading propellants, and encapsulating the spacecraft inside payload fairings before it leaves the facility and moves to the launch pad.”
The spacecraft’s huge solar arrays were deployed to their full extent in a test in March, and are necessary to provide power for the craft as its travels on its 1.5 billion-mile (2.4 billion kilometer) journey. It will travel for 3.5 years, getting a gravity boost from a flyby of Mars in 2023, with its arrival at Psyche scheduled for 2026.
NASA has released a trailer for the mission which you can watch below: