NASA Greenlights The New Lucy Spacecraft To Explore Jupiter's Trojan Asteroids
It seems like everyone's focus has been on Mars lately. With the numerous rovers and probes that are already focused on the planet and others en route, it's easy to forget that there are other spherical rocks out there worth exploring. This week, NASA announced that it has been given the approval to build Lucy, a spacecraft bound for Jupiter in 2021 where it will spend 12 years getting a closer look at the fifth planet's Trojan asteroids.
The panel that approved the plans for Lucy (named after the hominid skeleton) also signed off on its instruments and budget, as well as a "risk factor analysis" for the project. The next immediate step before putting nuts to bolts is for a Critical Design Review, but then it's off to the machine shops to begin the fabrication process. "Up until now this mission has entirely been on paper," Lucy principal investigator Hal Levison said in a statement. "Now we have the go ahead to actually cut metal and start putting this spacecraft together."
Credits: Southwest Research Institute
Once built, Astronomy.com reports that Lucy will be launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida and will orbit Earth twice before being slingshotted by our planet's gravity into space toward its targets: first to the main belt asteroid 52246 Donaldjohanson for a flyby around April 20, 2025, and then to six of the Trojan asteroids. The spacecraft will use its spectrometers and imagers to collect data about the asteroids' physical properties and surface compositions. "No other space mission in history has been launched to as many different destinations in independent orbits around our sun," NASA wrote in a statement on the Goddard website. "Lucy will show us, for the first time, the diversity of the primordial bodies that built the planets."
"Today's confirmation of Lucy is a key step towards better understanding the role that small bodies played in the formation of the Solar System and life on Earth," said Adriana Campo, Lucy's program executive at NASA. For updates on Lucy, you can check in regularly to the official mission site or keep it locked to Outer Places and get on our newsletter.