NASA, SpaceX Psyche mission launches to explore metal-rich asteroid in deep space

NASA and SpaceX launched a spacecraft into space on Friday morning – one that will travel for the next six years en route to a metal-rich asteroid, called "Psyche."

The "Psyche" asteroid is located 2.2 billion miles away between Jupiter and Mars, according to NASA's website. Once it reaches the 173-mile-wide asteroid in 2029, it will spend 26 months – slightly longer than two years – in orbit, "mapping and studying Psyche's properties."

The rocket launched Friday morning from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. You can watch a recap of the launch in the video player above.

NASA and SpaceX planned to launch the mission earlier this week, but had to postpone the launch twice due to severe thunderstorms and unfavorable weather conditions in Florida.

"We’ve been to rocky worlds like the moon and icy worlds like satellites around the outer planets but never a metal world," said Dr. Laurie Leshin, director for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

NASA said the Psyche asteroid "appears to be the exposed nickel-iron core of an early planet," which is considered to be the early 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 planets' rocky mantles and crusts. Because we cannot see or measure Earth's core directly, Psyche offers a unique window into the violent history of collisions and accretion that created terrestrial planet," NASA said.

NASA said the mission was being led by Arizona State University.

On the six-year journey, solar panels will expand and use the sun and solar electric propulsion to propel the spacecraft.

"We’re also doing solar electro-propulsion in a way we’ve never done before," Warner added. "We’re taking hull thrusters past the moon which has never been done before." 

How the spacecraft is getting to the asteroid isn’t the only first. 

"It’s the first time we’ll be testing out communication with a laser beam back to earth," said Leshin. 

Another part of the mission is trying to improve communication from earth to space. The Deep Space Optical Communication tool is NASA’s farthest reaching communication experiment. If successful, it could be what’s used to stay connected with humans on Mars. 

"So many things on psyche are firsts," Leshin exclaimed. 

While the mission was delayed for a year, it gave scientists more time to perfect the technology and tools on board the historic spacecraft. 

"The system was not fully tested, and we still needed to make some upgrades to our software," the payload manager concluded.