Today, NASA launched a spacecraft called Psyche on a six-year mission to a tiny fragment of rock two billion miles away.
The spacecraft is named for the asteroid that is its destination – the asteroid Psyche.
It was launched using the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and NASA was able to pick up telemetry immediately.
This launch comes just weeks after the return of a similar mission to the asteroid Bennu from the probe Osiris-Rex.
Osiris-Rex traveled 200 million miles and successfully landed on the asteroid to gather samples before returning back to Earth.
Those samples have revealed what scientists hoped to find: clear signs of carbon and water – the building blocks of life.
This finding helps bolster the theory that asteroids help seed planets like Earth.
Psyche will spend the first 100 days of its journey reviewing diagnostics to make sure everything is working properly.
After this, it will fire up its solar-powered ionic drive to push it on its way to the asteroid which sits between Mars and Jupiter.
Although there is no plan to land this probe on the surface, Psyche will go into geosynchronous orbit to study the asteroid using an array of devices.
Psyche the asteroid is believed to have an iron core, and exploring it will allow scientists to understand more about the origin of metals.
Unlike many asteroids which are made of rock and ice, Psyche contains high traces of metals of different types.
The probe’s Deep Space Optimal Communications (DSOC) will send and receive data to and from Earth via a nearly invisible infrared laser which can send 10-100 times the amount of data of conventional communication technology.
The research for the project is being led by Arizona State University with the mission management run by NASA’s JET Propulsion Lab.