SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket poised to launch Psyche metal asteroid mission (photos) (Image Credit: Space.com)
SpaceX’s powerful Falcon Heavy rocket is ready to launch its first-ever NASA mission tomorrow (Oct. 13).
The Falcon Heavy rolled out to Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Tuesday (Oct. 10) ahead of an originally planned Thursday (Oct. 12) liftoff of NASA’s Psyche asteroid mission. But NASA and SpaceX delayed the launch by a day to wait out some bad weather brewing on the Space Coast.
If all goes according to plan, Psyche will now launch tomorrow at 10:19 a.m. EDT (1419 GMT). You can watch the action live here at Space.com, courtesy of NASA and SpaceX.
The Falcon Heavy consists of three strapped-together first stages of SpaceX’s workhorse Falcon 9 rocket. The central booster is topped with an upper stage and the payload.
The Heavy — the second-most powerful rocket flying today, after NASA’s Space Launch System — has flown seven times to date, most recently in July of this year. None of those missions were for NASA, however.
The two side boosters that will help launch Psyche tomorrow are spaceflight veterans, as their sooty appearance suggests: They have participated in three of seven Falcon Heavy launches to date, according to a SpaceX mission description. Both side boosters are expected come back once again if all goes smoothly, touching down in Florida shortly after liftoff.
The central booster, on the other hand, will be making its first and only flight tomorrow. It’s slated to fall into the Atlantic Ocean after it finishes powering Psyche skyward.
The Psyche mission will study the bizarre metallic asteroid of the same name up close, providing key insights about the solar system’s early days and the planet-formation process. (Astronomers think Psyche may be the exposed core of an ancient protoplanet.)
The 173-mile-wide (280 kilometers) Psyche lies in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The Psyche probe is scheduled to reach the space rock in 2029, then scrutinize it from orbit for at least 26 months.
Current forecasts call for a 50% chance of good enough weather to allow a launch tomorrow. The Psyche mission has daily launch opportunities through Oct. 25.