NASA has selected Elon Musk-run SpaceX to provide launch services for the agency's Psyche mission that would journey to a unique metal-rich asteroid, also named Psyche, which orbits the Sun between Mars and Jupiter.
The Psyche mission currently is targeted to launch in July 2022 on a Falcon Heavy rocket from Launch Complex 39A at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, the US space agency said in a statement late Friday.
The Psyche 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.
Deep within rocky, terrestrial planets, including Earth, scientists infer the presence of metallic cores, but these lie unreachably far below the planet's rocky mantles and crusts.
Because we cannot see or measure Earth's core directly, the mission to Psyche offers a unique window into the violent history of collisions and accretion that created terrestrial planets, said NASA.
The launch of Psyche will include two secondary payloads: Escape and Plasma Acceleration and Dynamics Explorers (EscaPADE), which will study the Martian atmosphere, and Janus, which will study binary asteroids.
NASA's Launch Services Programme at Kennedy Space Center in Florida will manage the SpaceX launch service, said the US space agency.