July 3, 2022

Record-breaking Asteroid Lucy mission gears up for October launch NASA’s

Lucy asteroid mission is gearing up for its October launch with a new, more powerful rocket. The spacecraft will travel to the Trojan asteroids in Jupiter’s orbit, using gravity assists from Earth and Mars to reach its final destination.

The most distant of these asteroids are thought to be leftovers from the formation of our solar system over four billion years ago. These “Trojan” asteroids are not easy targets – they’re spread out along orbits that keep them away from Earth during most encounters – but NASA scientists have found ways around this obstacle by looking at their trajectories when they do come close enough to visit us.

said Lucy project scientist Hal Levison of the Southwest Research Institute SwRI in Boulder, Colorado. Lucy, like the human fossil for which it is named, will revolutionize our understanding of our origins.

Lucy will travel across the solar system for years before it reaches its first destination: a main belt asteroid in 2025. Following another Earth gravity assist in 2027 and a Mars flyby in 2021, Lucy will arrive at its first Trojan target – called Thisbe – in 2027. It will then visit six more Trojans over the next seven years, taking pictures and making observations that could yield new clues about the formation of the outer planets. Some of these objects may even be sources of organic molecules or water ice, giving scientists some sense for what might have been delivered to early Earth.

The spacecraft’s instruments include a dust analyzer, a magnetometer and charged-particle spectrometers. Like the human fossil for which it is named, Lucy will revolutionize our understanding of our origins.

NASA’s New Frontiers program provided funding for the mission, which was selected from five competing proposals in 2012. The program focuses on the greatest opportunities to advance the field of space exploration by pursuing projects that were not selected for NASA’s previous mission of record.

The New Frontiers program gives scientists the most robust suite of instruments, allowing them to perform some
Lucy was one of three missions selected for the New Frontiers program. Juno arrived at Jupiter on July 4 and OSIRIS-REx is currently en route to a near-Earth asteroid called Bennu, which it will reach next year.

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

The mission is scheduled to launch on October 5, 2021 and will reach its first destination a main belt asteroid in 2025. Following another Earth gravity assist in 2027 and a Mars flyby in 2023, Lucy will arrive at its first Trojan target called Thisbe in 2027. After studying six more Trojans over seven years, the spacecraft will travel to a different main belt asteroid.

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.