Next Launch:


United States of America
United States of America
Date: Friday, October 13, 2023
Time: 2:19 PM UTC (UTC +0)

This goes

to space


The asteroid 16 Psyche may be the remnant metallic core of a failed planet. We’re about to find out.

Inside our planet is a core that — as far as we can tell — is made of metal and spins to give our world its protective magnetic field. Without the help of Jules Verne, however, we can’t go look for ourselves.

But an asteroid called 16 Psyche might be the next best thing — the suspected remnant core of a failed planet, out there floating freely in space. We’ve only ever studied it from afar with telescopes, but next month, a NASA spacecraft of the same name will launch on a mission to study this fascinating object up close for the first time, oft-proclaimed to be worth quadrillions of dollars in the vast amount of metal it may contain.

“We think Psyche may be the core of a body that had its outside stripped off,” says Ben Weiss at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Deputy Principal Investigator on Psyche. “So it’s potentially an opportunity to visit an exposed planetary metallic core.”

Psyche will launch on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral. It will then take nearly six years to traverse some 4 billion kilometers to its target using an ion thruster, arriving in August 2029, where it will enter orbit around the potato-shaped object some 280 kilometers wide at its longest point.

Radar observations of Psyche, which orbits in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, show that it is extremely dense and more reflective than other asteroids. This means it might be rich in metal, with 40 to 60% of its bulk thought to be mostly iron compared to the fractions of metal seen in regular asteroids. What we don’t know is whether this metal will be mixed into the rock of the asteroid or appear as sheets or even lakes of metal on its surface.

“Right now it’s just wild speculation as to whether it’s gleaming, whether it’s a smooth surface or a rough surface,” says Weiss. “We’ve speculated about glittering cliffs.”

The solar-powered Psyche spacecraft has two cameras and three instruments to study its namesake, allowing it to probe the asteroid’s composition, and its surface, and even look for any evidence of a remnant magnetic field. “Maybe the body in its early state might have generated a magnetic field,” says Weiss.
The thinking is that Psyche might have begun life in the same way as Earth and the other planets, with a metallic rocky core forming and starting to pull in other material. At some point early in the 4.6 billion-year history of the solar system, however, when it was about twice its current size, Psyche was hit by a large impact. This may have torn away its still-forming outer layers and left only the metal core behind, or perhaps the object was destroyed entirely and re-formed as a metal-rich object mixed with rock.

“It was starting to form as this little baby planet,” says Stephanie Jarmak, a research scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Texas. “As it was forming, it got so big and hot in the center that it condensed this primary metallic core.” Psyche also rotates on its side relative to the Sun, perhaps supporting the impact idea, with several large craters thought to be on its surface from remote telescope observations. Another possibility, however, might be that Psyche simply formed in a metal-rich pocket of the solar system, rather than undergoing this impact-formation scenario.

In March, Jarmak used the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) to study Psyche and plans to submit her results for publication in October. One of the goals was to see if there was any evidence of water mixed into the asteroid. “We’re trying to figure out if it’s this pristine sheet of metal, or if there are deposits of water-rich rocky material interspersed across its surface,” she says, which could tell us more about the object’s origin.

The high metallicity of Psyche has led to various overzealous headlines in recent years, some proclaiming Psyche to be worth “$10,000 quadrillion”. Such figures are speculative – we don’t really know exactly what Psyche is made of, while the prospect of mining asteroids for resources remains tentative at best. But that does not diminish the exciting interest in this object.

“Any of its components, in the far-flung future, would be useful for building components,” says Jarmak. “Even any of the [water-rich] material on Psyche’s surface could be equally valuable for fuel.”

The asteroid is part of a class of objects called M-type asteroids and, while it is fairly unique in this class, there are other similar objects in the solar system, such as the asteroid 216 Kleopatra. The planet Mercury also seems to look like the exposed core of a once larger planet. “It’s a weird planet because it’s basically a core with a little bit of rock on top,” says Weiss.

By comparison, Psyche seems to have its metallic core exposed on the surface. Studying it should hopefully teach us about planet formation, and not just in our solar system but around other stars too. “Psyche gives us an opportunity to start to understand how you could form something [like this],” says Weiss.
Much remains unknown about such objects. “We’ve sent spacecraft to rocky worlds like Mars, icy worlds like Europa, but this is an opportunity to go to a metal world,” says Weiss. “We want to know what it is like geologically. What does a volcano or impact crater look like on a metal world?”

At the end of this decade, we’ll find out. Get your asteroid mining picks at the ready.

Jonathan O'Callaghan for Supercluster

Image: Jenny Hautmann for Supercluster

On this


Falcon Heavy

Falcon Heavy is designed and manufactured by SpaceX in Hawthorne, California. It is derived from the Falcon 9 vehicle and consists of a strengthened Falcon 9 first stage as a central core with two additional first stages as strap-on boosters.


Total launches: 9

Total landings: 17

Total reflights: 14


Height: 70m / 229.6ft

Width: 12.2m / 39.9ft

Mass: 1,420,788kg / 3,125,735lb

Payload to LEO: 63,800 kg / 140,660 lb

Payload to GEO: 26,700 kg / 58,860 lb

Payload to Mars: 16,800 kg / 37,040 lb


SpaceX conducted Falcon Heavy's first launch on February 6th, 2018, at 3:45 PM EST. The rocket carried a Tesla Roadster belonging to SpaceX founder Elon Musk, with a dummy dubbed "Starman" in the driver's seat.

The second Falcon Heavy launch occurred on April 11th, 2019. This launch successfully launched the Arabsat-6A satellite and all three booster rockets successfully returned to Earth except but the center core subsequently fell over and was lost during transport due to heavy seas.

The third Falcon Heavy launch successfully occurred on June 25th, 2019. This mission successfully launched multiple payloads including USAF STP-2, a space memorial for Celestis, and Lightsail-2. The mission also supported the U.S. Air Force National Security Space Launch certification process for the Falcon Heavy. The side boosters were successfully recovered but the center core failed to land and was destroyed on impact with the Atlantic Ocean.

The fourth Falcon Heavy mission, USSF-44 for the U.S. Space Force, successfully launched on November 1st, 2022 from Kennedy Space Center.

The fifth Falcon Heavy mission launched USSF-67 on January 15th, 2023.

The soxth Falcon Heavy mission launched ViaSat-3 Americas on April 30th, 2023.

The seventh Falcon Heavy mission launched EchoStar 24 (Jupiter 3) on July 28th, 2023.

The eighth Falcon Heavy mission launched Psyche on October 13th, 2023.

Photo by SpaceX

From this

launch site

LC-39A - Kennedy Space Center, Florida (FH)
October 13, 2023

NASA's historic Kennedy Space Center is located on Cape Canaveral, Florida, and has hosted decades of historic space missions since the early days of the Apollo program.

Today, Kennedy Space Center is a multi-user spaceport and hosts private companies like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, SpaceX, and others.

SpaceX leases Launch Complex 39A at NASA's flagship facility and uses the pad to launch its Falcon Heavy and Falcon 9 rockets. The pad is also used to launch missions for the Commercial Crew Program for which SpaceX launches astronauts to the Space Station for NASA aboard their Crew Dragon capsule.

Launch Complex 39A was previously used by NASA to launch the Apollo 11 mission to land the first humans on the moon and Space Shuttle missions to assemble the International Space Station and upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope.

Boosters will

land here

Landing Zone 1 & 2
October 13, 2023

Landing Zone 1 (LZ-1) is an 86-meter-wide circular landing pad at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station and is one of two SpaceX booster landing pads at the Florida spaceport.

Built on former Launch Complex 13, LZ-1 was the site of SpaceX's first successful landing and recovery of a Falcon 9 on the ORBCOMM-2 mission in December 2015. Since then, it has hosted 16 landings.

The landing pad, as well as its twin, LZ-2 located a few dozen meters away, can support both single landings of a Falcon 9 or simultaneous landings of the two Falcon Heavy side boosters.

Photo by Jenny Hautmann for Supercluster

Purchase This Photo Print

High-quality prints selected from the Supercluster team’s celebrated spaceflight photography are now available in our shop.

Printed on slightly glossy and fingerprint-resistant photo paper sourced from Japan.

Collect this photo of a double booster landing: Jenny Hautmann's capture of two Falcon Heavy side boosters returning to Earth after launch.

Center core

lands here

Atlantic Ocean (Center Core Expended)
October 13, 2023

SpaceX will expend the center core of the Falcon Heavy rocket, and it will be dropped into the Atlantic Ocean.

SpaceX had multiple failed attempts at recovering a Falcon Heavy center core on a droneship. But the primary reason why SpaceX does not attempt to recover the center core is to allow the Falcon Heavy to put a greater amount of mass into Geostationary orbit. The Falcon Heavy rocket tends to be used for heavy geostationary satellites which requires the center core to be expended.

The center core will have its landing legs and grid fins removed to minimize weight.

Here's where to view Psyche

Viewing Sites
  • Alan Shepard Park
  • A. Max Brewer Parkway Bridge
  • Saturn V Building / Banana Creek
  • Cherie Down Park
  • Cocoa Beach Pier
  • Jetty Park
  • Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
  • Lori Wilson Park
  • Playalinda Beach
  • Rotary Riverfront Park
  • Sand Point Park
  • Sidney Fischer Park
  • Space View Park

Space is for everyone. Here’s a link to share the launch with your friends.