NASA to launch Lucy probe to study Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids
NASA is set on Saturday to launch a first-of-its kind mission, a spacecraft called Lucy on a 12-year mission to explore for the first time a group of rocky bodies known as the Jupiter Trojan asteroids, gathering new insights into the solar system’s formation.
Two large clusters of space rocks that scientists believe are remnants of primordial material that formed the solar system’s outer planets.
The Atlas V rocket responsible for propelling the probe was scheduled to take off on Saturday at 5:34 am local time (9:34 am GMT) from Cape Canaveral.
The space probe, packed inside a special cargo capsule, is due for liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 5:34 a.m. EDT (0934 GMT), carried aloft by an Atlas V rocket from United Launch Alliance (UAL), a joint venture of Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin Corp.
Named after an ancient fossil of a pre-human ancestor, Lucy will become the first solar-powered spacecraft to venture so far from the Sun, and will observe more asteroids than any probe before it — eight in all.
Scientists hope Lucy’s close-up fly-by of seven Trojans will yield new clues to how the solar system’s planets came to be formed some 4.5 billion years ago and what shaped their present configuration.
Believed to be rich in carbon compounds, the asteroids may even provide new insights into the origin of organic materials and life on Earth, NASA said.
Additionally, Lucy will make three Earth flybys for gravity assists, making it the first spacecraft to return to our planet’s vicinity from the outer solar system.
“Each one of those asteroids, each one of those pristine samples, provide a part of the story of the solar system, the story of us,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission, told reporters on a call.
Lucy’s first encounter will be in 2025 with asteroid Donaldjohanson in the Main Belt, between Mars and Jupiter. The body is named for the discoverer of the Lucy fossil.
The probe will use rocket thrusters to maneuver in space and two rounded solar arrays, each the width of a school bus, to recharge batteries that will power the instruments contained in the much smaller central body of the spacecraft.