NASA has awarded SpaceX of Hawthorne, California, the contract to explore the mineral-rich asteroid Psyche. The mission is valued at approximately $117 million, a low number for this kind of project. That amount includes the launch service and other mission-related costs.
Falcon Heavy will launch @NASAPsyche! The mission, for which @NASA requires the highest level of launch vehicle reliability, will study a metal asteroid between Mars and Jupiter to help humanity better understand the formation of our solar system’s planets https://t.co/mvrgx6dvaW pic.twitter.com/FqMaRKscQ4— SpaceX (@SpaceX) February 28, 2020
A metal-rich asteroid
"The Psyche mission will journey to a unique metal-rich asteroid, also named Psyche, which orbits the Sun between Mars and Jupiter. I consider the asteroid 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," said NASA's statement.
"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," continued the statement.
Two secondary payloads
NASA revealed the mission would include two secondary payloads: Escape and Plasma Acceleration and Dynamics Explorers (EscaPADE) and Janus. The first is meant to explore the Martian atmosphere, and the second will take a look at binary asteroids.
The space agency also revealed that NASA’s Launch Services Program at Kennedy Space Center in Florida will manage the SpaceX launch service while the project will be led by Arizona State University.
The mission will also see the assistance of NASA’s Jet Propulsion for system engineering, integration, testing, and mission operations and Maxar Technologies for the provision of a power solar electric propulsion spacecraft chassis.