The Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) space mission Lucy has just made an important step on its way to launch. After the system integration review, engineers were given the green light to build the probe. Lucy will be the first spacecraft to fly to Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids , tiny cosmic rocks that follow the same orbit as Jupiter and hold a lot of information about the solar system’s origins.
During the 12-year mission, the Lucy spacecraft will visit seven of these primitive rocks and collect detailed data about them. Since Trojan asteroids are remnants of the primordial matter from which the outer planets of the solar system were formed, they hide a lot of information that will help us understand the history of our own planetary system much better. Lucy, as well as a fossilized female skeleton more than 3 million years old discovered in 1974, will enable us to study our origins.
Over the past few months, the Lucy mission team has focused on building and testing all of the probe’s components, including scientific, electronic, communication and navigation instruments. During the inspection, engineers proved that all systems and subsystems, according to the schedule, are ready for assembly, testing and integration.
We did not expect to build the probe in such conditions, says Dr. Hal Levison, principal investigator of the Lucy mission at SwRI. Nevertheless, our team surprised me with their creativity and determination to overcome all the difficulties associated with working in a pandemic.
Lucy is arming herself for the trip
A positive review result means that engineers can now start assembling and testing the probe. The assembly phase will begin later this month at Lockheed Martin Space Systems’ factory in Littleton, Colorado. Due to the constraints associated with the coronavirus pandemic, engineers rescheduled the work schedule somewhat so that delayed components could be fitted last. Thanks to this, the launch of the mission is still planned for October 2021.
Over the next six months, the Goddard, the Applied Physics Laboratory at John Hopkins University, and the University of Arizona will provide a set of instruments to be installed on board the probe. They will be used to take photos and create maps. Thanks to them, Lucy will be able to study, photograph, map and analyze this enigmatic population of asteroids in detail.
Lucy’s planned mission
If the launch is not delayed, in 2025, on its way to Jupiter, the Lucy probe will fly near Main Belt 52246 Donaldjohanson. This will be the first research target. In 2027, Lucy will reach the L4 cloud, the group of asteroids that follow Jupiter’s orbit, but 60 degrees ahead of it. There, the probe will approach the asteroids 3548 Eurybates , 15094 Polymele, 11351 Leucus and 21900 Orus.
It will only be more interesting next. After visiting these objects, the spacecraft will return to the vicinity of Earth, where gravity assistance will take it to the L5 Trojan cloud 60 degrees behind Jupiter. Due to the distances, the spacecraft will reach the site in 2033. In the L5 cloud, Lucy will study the binary asteroid 617 Patrokles and its satellite Menoetius. The probe will feature a high-resolution camera and spectrometers that observe optical, near-infrared and thermal infrared spectrometers.
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Lucy takes shape. The probe will explore as many as seven different worlds