SpaceX Falcon Heavy / NASA Psyche Launch

SpaceX plans to launch a Falcon Heavy rocket from Launch Complex 39A in Florida on 2023-10-13 at 14:19 UTC. The launch will place NASA’s Psyche spacecraft on an Earth escape trajectory, bound for the main belt asteroid 16 Psyche. The spacecraft will fly by Mars at a distance of around 3000 km in May 2026, arriving at a rendezvous with the eponymous asteroid in August 2029. Total payload mass is 2.747 tonnes.

Asteroid 16 Psyche was discovered in 1852 by Italian astronomer Annibale de Gasparis and is the largest M-type (metallic) asteroid. It is a lumpy ellipsoid with dimensions around 277 × 238 × 168 kilometres and a mass of 2.29\times 10^{19} kg. Psyche’s mass (around 1% of all asteroids together) is sufficient to allow its measurement by the perturbation of orbits of other asteroids, and this permits estimating its density at 3.9 g/cm³, indicating it contains substantial metal, presumed to be similar to metallic meteorites. Psyche was originally believed to be the metallic core of a protoplanet which may have been destroyed by a collision in the early solar system, but is now believed to have accreted from metal-rich material in the asteroid belt.

This will be the eighth launch of a Falcon Heavy. The core stage, B1079, is making its first and last flight, while the two side boosters, B1064 and B1065, are both making their fourth flights, both after 75 days turn-around after their last flight together launching EchoStar 24 on 2023-07-28. The side boosters will land back near the launch site, while the centre core will be expended. This is the first launch of a NASA interplanetary mission on a Falcon Heavy.

Weather for the scheduled launch time looks iffy, with a 50% chance of favourable conditions. The launch window to reach Psyche runs through 2023-10-25.

Here is a pre-flight preview from Everyday Astronaut.

This is a ten minute NASA video previewing the mission.




Here is Scott Manley’s summary of the Psyche launch, deployment, and planned mission.