NASA has awarded SpaceX with the launch services contract for a mission to study a unique metal-rich asteroid.
Slated for July 2022, the Psyche mission will launch atop a Falcon Heavy, bound for an asteroid, also named Psyche, which orbits the sun between Mars and Jupiter. The asteroid was chosen for its apparent high content of nickel-iron, leading scientists to think it may be the core of an early planet.
Because planet cores are so deep under their surfaces, we couldn’t possibly visit them. But if this asteroid is, in fact, what they think it is, it could give scientists a rare peak into planet formation.
NASA will pay $117 million for launch services and other related costs of launching Psyche and two secondary payloads. The secondary payloads are the Escape and Plasma Acceleration and Dynamics Explorers (EscaPADE), which will study the Martian atmosphere, and Janus, which will study binary asteroids.
This excellent video from NASA goes into more detail about why this asteroid was chosen for study, and what they hope to learn.