NASA Launches Lucy Mission to Trojan Asteroids

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket is seen launching from Space Launch Complex 41 on this 2 minute, 30 second publicity. The rocket carries NASA’s Lucy mission.
NASA / Bill Ingalls

A United Launch Alliance lit up the daybreak sky over launchpad SLC-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station this morning, sending NASA’s Lucy mission on its way to discover Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids. These space rocks orbit 60 levels forward and behind of Jupiter in its orbit. Liftoff occurred at 9:34 UT / 5:34 a.m. EDT. Lucy is likely one of the prime planetary missions to depart Earth in 2021.

The launch was flawless, and floor management reported the spacecraft to be in good well being. The solar panels unfurled because the second-stage booster lofted the mission right into a heliocentric orbit. After an Earth flyby in late 2024, Lucy will go to one main-belt asteroid (52246 Donaldjohanson) and 7 Trojan bodies from 2025 to 2033. The Trojans kind two teams, generally dubbed ‘camps,’ that commemorate the 2 sides of the Trojan War: the Greek camp main Jupiter on the secure L4 level 60° forward of its place, and the Trojan camp trailing 60° behind Jupiter in its orbit.

Animation of Trojan asteroids' orbits
This time-lapsed animation reveals the actions of the interior planets (Mercury, brown; Venus, white; Earth, blue; Mars, red), Jupiter (orange), and the 2 Trojan swarms (green).

The mission timeline will see the Lucy mission taking a convoluted path via the interior solar system. After passing Donaldjohanson, named for the paleo-anthropologist who found the Lucy fossil, Lucy will go on to the Greek camp. First up is 3548 Eurybates and its moon in August 2027, 15094 Polymele in September 2027, 11351 Leucus in April 2028, and 21900 Orus in November 2028.

Then, after an Earth flyby the day after Christmas 2030, Lucy will head for the camp of Trojans behind Jupiter in its orbit, reaching a big pair named 617 Patroclus-Menoetius on March 2, 2033. These ultimate targets are on a high-inclination orbit across the Sun, making for a difficult strategy. The staff was lucky that the timing works out to catch Patroclus because it passes via the ecliptic plane.

“Lucy embodies NASA’s enduring quest to push out into the cosmos for the sake of exploration and science, to better understand the universe and our place within it,” says NASA administrator Bill Nelson in a latest press release. “I can’t wait to see what mysteries the mission uncovers!”

Lucy Targets
Artist’s conceptions of the flyby targets for Lucy, to scale. Eurybates was just lately found to even have a moon, upping the variety of asteroids Lucy will go to to eight.

Why Explore the Trojans

These asteroids have possible been trapped of their present orbits for billions of years. They thus signify pristine examples of fabric leftover from the formation of the solar system. Lucy will examine the geology, composition, and interiors of the rocks to make clear planet formation processes. Several of the asteroids focused are C-type carbonaceous asteroids, and some are suspected binaries or possess recognized moonlets.

The Lucy staff is on the lookout for motivated observers to observe events when target asteroids occult (block) background stars. Amateur {and professional} observations alike may also help get a greater thought of the shapes and orbits of those asteroids. Unistellar additionally has an ongoing campaign for eQuinox and eVscope2 customers to monitor occultations on course asteroids pre-flyby.

Lucy’s advanced path to the Trojan asteroids.

Lucy takes its title from the three.2 million-year-old hominid skeleton present in 1974 within the Awash Valley in Ethiopia, Africa, whose title was in flip impressed by the Beatles music “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.”

The $981 million mission was one of two Discovery Class missions chosen in 2017. The second mission, named Psyche, is headed to the iron-rich asteroid additionally named 16 Psyche and can launch subsequent summer time.

Lucy is solar powered, the second mission together with Juno to enterprise out so far as Jupiter’s orbit utilizing solar panels for energy as an alternative of conventional plutonium-fueled turbines.

Lucy, simply prior to encapsulation.
NASA/Ben Smegelsky

Lucy carries 4 devices:

L’LORRI – This high-resolution imager will {photograph} the asteroids in seen gentle offering detailed maps of their surfaces. Built by Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, it is a duplicate of the LORRI Long Range Reconnaissance Imager aboard New Horizons.

L’Ralph – Built on the Goddard Flight Center, this suite consists of a visible-light imager, , related to the Ralph imager on New Horizons, and an infrared spectrometer. The duo will assist decide the compositions of the asteroids’ surfaces.

L’TES – This thermal-emission spectrometer, designed by Arizona State University, will study the warmth given off by asteroids, shedding gentle on their inside constructions Also a spaceflight-proven know-how, L’TES is analogous to the OTES instrument aboard OSIRIS-REX.

Lucy is put in atop the Atlas-5 rocket prior to launch.
NASA / Isaac Watson

After the ultimate flyby in 2033, Lucy could also be granted a mission extension, however will in any other case stay in a secure, 6-year orbit between the 2 Trojan camps. Knowing this, mission planners connected a plaque to Lucy, which incorporates 20 samples of poetry and quotations from luminaries together with Martin Luther King Jr., Carl Sagan, and the Beatles. The plaque additionally reveals the orbital configuration of the planets of solar system at launch, plus the trail of Lucy, and the geological place of the continents of the Earth on the time of launch for any would-be spacecraft salvagers, hundreds or hundreds of thousands of years sooner or later.

Lucy Plaque
The plaque mounted on the outside of the Lucy spacecraft.

It’s wonderful to assume that Lucy’s legacy, delving billions of years into the previous, can even prolong far into the long run.


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