NASA's $1 Billion Mission to Study a Metal-Rich Asteroid with SpaceX's Falcon Heavy


SpaceX's powerful Falcon Heavy rocket successfully launched on Friday morning, carrying a NASA mission that aims to explore a distant asteroid. The rocket is heading to the asteroid Psyche, which is in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

The mission, named Psyche, is sending a spacecraft — about the size of a tennis court — on a journey of nearly six years and about 2.2 billion miles, reaching the asteroid in July 2029. 

The launch took off at 10:19 a.m. ET from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. 

NASA wants to study the asteroid Psyche, which the agency describes as "an unusual object likely rich in metal." The Psyche spacecraft is equipped with various scientific tools, such as instruments for studying the asteroid's magnetic field and chemical makeup. 

The agency expects to spend about $1.2 billion on the Psyche mission, including the costs of development and operations. Of that total cost, NASA awarded SpaceX a contract of about $131 million to launch the mission. 

The mission marks SpaceX's eighth launch of its Falcon Heavy rocket, the company's most powerful in operation. It landed the rocket's pair of side boosters, to recover and reuse them for future launches.