Nasa has awarded a contract to US-based SpaceX to provide launch services for the agency’s Psyche mission, which is set for launch in July 2022.

Targeted to launch on a Falcon Heavy rocket from Launch Complex 39A at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, US, the mission is aimed at exploring a unique metal-rich asteroid, also named Psyche.

Nasa noted that the total cost for the launch of Psyche, as well as the secondary payloads, is $117m.

Orbiting the Sun between Mars and Jupiter, the metal-rich asteroid Psyche appears to largely be made of the exposed nickel-iron core of an early planet and is considered unique.

Nasa said in a 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.”

Nasa’s Psyche mission is led by Arizona State University and will include Escape and Plasma Acceleration and Dynamics Explorers (EscaPADE) payloads.

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The payloads will study the Martian atmosphere and Janus, which will study binary asteroids.

The SpaceX launch service will be managed by the agency’s Launch Services Program at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory will look after the overall management, system engineering, integration, testing and mission operations.

A high-power solar electric propulsion spacecraft chassis for the mission will be provided by Maxar Technologies.

In January 2017, Nasa announced that it intends to take up two new missions, Lucy and Psyche, which have the potential to study one of the earliest eras in the history of the solar system.