Lucy, Last Stop Before the Asteroids (Planetary Science)

The first of the two missions of NASA’s Discovery Program is almost ready to set out to discover Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids. It will fly over a record number of these fossil remains of the primordial material from which the outer planets formed

Lucy , the first NASA probe designed to explore Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids – a population of ancient small bodies that share the orbit of the gaseous planet – arrived on Friday, July 30 at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The spacecraft is now in a clean room, ready to begin final preparations for launch, scheduled for a 23-day window starting October 16 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station .

During her twelve-year primary mission, Lucy will explore a record number of asteroids, flying over a main belt asteroid and seven Trojan asteroids (including an asteroid’s mini-moon ). The latter are remnants of the early solar system, now trapped in stable orbits associated with the giant planet, around which they form two “swarms” that precede and follow Jupiter in its path around the Sun, grouped around stable points of gravitational equilibrium known as points by Lagrange .

The probe was flown from Buckley Space Force Base in Aurora, Colorado, aboard a US Air Force C-17 cargo plane. Precisely in Colorado, in the Littleton factories of Lockheed Martin Space , the spacecraft had been designed and assembled.

NASA's Lucy probe arrives in a cargo plane
NASA’s Lucy probe arrives in a cargo plane and is unloaded on the runway of the Launch and Landing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 30, 2021. Credits: Nasa / Kim Shiflett

Lucy is now ready to begin her latest cycle of pre-launch tests and checks , which include software testing, functional testing of instruments and power supplies, propulsion propellant load testing, telecommunication testing and self-testing of the spacecraft itself. .

“It’s hard to believe we’re finally here after more than seven years of hard work,” says Hal Levison , head of Lucy at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. «We could not have achieved this without an extremely talented and dedicated team. The time has come to take Lucy into space, so that she can give us back her revolutionary scientific vision on the origin of our planetary system. “

Featured image: The January 2021 test on the deployment of the large circular solar panels of the Lucy mission. Credits: Credit: Lockheed Martin

Provided by INAF

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