NASA has contracted Elon Musk’s SpaceX to launch the agency’s Psyche mission to a mysterious metal asteroid orbiting between Jupiter and Mars.
Some researchers estimate that the metal asteroid contains materials worth a mind-blowing $10,000 quadrillion!
But NASA says its objectives are scientific rather than mercantile.
Experts likewise say it would be impractical to transport any of the materials back to earth using current technology.
“The asteroid is considered 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,” NASA officials said.
The mission does not launch for two more years, but NASA’s preparations are now well underway with the California-based aerospace manufacturer.
Reports indicate that NASA will pay SpaceX $117 million for launch services and other mission-related costs. The figure is remarkably low for a mission of this scale, according to experts.
The Psyche mission will use one of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rockets, which is scheduled to lift-off from Florida in July 2022.
Scientists say rocky, terrestrial planets like Earth likely have a metallic core. However, it is difficult to observe or measure a planet’s core directly because it lies far below a planet’s crust.
By studying Psyche up close, scientists hope to better understand the violent history of collisions and accretion that created terrestrial planets, according to NASA.