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SpaceX will launch NASA's totally metal Psyche asteroid mission

Devil horns. Head-bang. Science.

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This NASA illustration shows the Psyche mission at the metal asteroid it will be targeting.

SSL/ASU/P. Rubin/NASA/JPL-Caltech

For those about to launch, we salute you. NASA has metal on its mind with the planned Psyche mission to visit a very odd asteroid. SpaceX will be the one to escort the spacecraft off this planet.

NASA announced last week is has awarded the Psyche mission launch services contract to SpaceX. The mission is targeted to launch in July 2022 from Cape Canaveral, Florida, with a lift from a Falcon Heavy rocket. Falcon Heavy is the bigger, buffer sibling of SpaceX's workhorse Falcon 9. 

The Psyche asteroid hangs out in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Scientists expect it will be very different from more familiar rocky asteroids like Bennu, which NASA's Osiris-Rex mission is currently investigating.

"The asteroid is considered unique, as it appears to largely be made of the exposed nickel-iron core of an early planet-one of the building blocks of our solar system," said NASA. Exploring this asteroid could give scientist's new insights into the history of Earth's core. 

The Psyche spacecraft likely won't be alone during launch. NASA expects to send a couple secondary payloads along for the ride. The Escape and Plasma Acceleration and Dynamics Explorers (EscaPADE) mission is designed to study the atmosphere of Mars. The Janus mission will investigate binary asteroids.

It will take the Psyche spacecraft until 2026 to reach its asteroid target. Falcon Heavy is quite a beast, so Psyche will get an appropriately dramatic send-off. Suggested launch music: Space Truckin' by Deep Purple.

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