NASA’s Psyche space probe was launcher on Friday 13 October aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket from Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
For its six-year, 3.6-billion-kilometer trip to the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, Psyche relies on solar electric propulsion. The efficient propulsion system works by expelling charged atoms, or ions, of the neutral gas xenon to create a thrust that gently propels the spacecraft.
Along the way, the spacecraft will use Mars’ gravity as a slingshot to speed it along on its journey.
The first 100 days of the mission are a commissioning phase, called the initial checkout period, to make sure all flight systems are healthy. Key to the checkout is ensuring that the electric thrusters are ready to begin continuously firing over long stretches of the trajectory.