NASA will launch its latest mission, Psyche, this week. The spacecraft will visit a strange asteroid that is thought to be made almost entirely of metal, studying it to understand more about the formation of planets in our solar system.
The mission has had some troubles and delays but is now ready to go ahead with the launch this Thursday, and the event will be livestreamed by NASA so you can watch along at home. We’ve got the details below:
The spacecraft will launch using a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Once it has left Earth’s atmosphere, it will travel around 2.2 billion miles to the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter where it will go into orbit around asteroid Psyche. The journey will take just under six years, with the spacecraft’s arrival at the asteroid scheduled for 2029.
The aim is for the spacecraft to begin its main mission in August 2029, when it will use its instruments including a camera, spectrometer, and magnetometer to investigate the metal asteroid. Psyche is around 170 miles across and is of particular interest to scientists because it is thought to be the core of an object called a planetesimal, which is one of the early stages of a forming planet. Studying Psyche could help scientists understand the early stages of the solar system and how rocky planets like Earth or Mars formed.
In addition to the Psyche spacecraft, there will also be a secondary passenger along for the launch: a technology demonstration called Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC). This small box attached to the spacecraft will test out using lasers to transmit data from beyond the moon, allowing higher bandwidth communications for future NASA missions. The DSOC will travel along with Psyche and transmit for the first two years of its journey, testing out the new communication system.
The launch will be livestreamed on one of NASA’s TV channels, so you can watch the whole launch event. Coverage begins at 9:15 a.m. ET (6:15 a.m. PT) on Thursday, October 12, with liftoff scheduled for 10:16 a.m. ET (7:16 a.m. PT).
There is also a spacewalk going on that day, so the spacewalk will be shown on the NASA TV public channel while the Psyche launch will be shown on the NASA Television media channel. To make life easier, you can head over to NASA’s YouTube page for the Psyche launch and watch directly from there, or use the video embedded near the top of this page.