NASA’s Lucy spacecraft launches on first ever mission to Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V 401 rocket flared to life below the quilt of darkish at Cape Canaveral House Drive Station in Florida simply after 2:30 a.m. native time Saturday morning. Encased inside the pencil-shaped payload fairing atop the rocket was NASA’s newest interplanetary explorer: A spacecraft named Lucy

It was the one hundredth launch from Cape Canaveral House Launch Advanced 41. Roughly 58 minutes after launch the probe, which is about as vast as bus, was launched from the second stage rocket booster to start its lengthy journey towards Jupiter’s orbit. The United Launch Alliance workforce celebrated with hugs and clapping in its mission management room. 

“It was some of the thrilling experiences of my life,” stated Hal Levison, principal investigator of the Lucy mission, post-launch. “It was actually superior, within the old style which means of the phrase.”   

Over the subsequent two years, Lucy will use Earth’s gravity twice to swing towards the photo voltaic system’s largest planet. However the gasoline big is not Lucy’s vacation spot. As a substitute, it can discover a collection of asteroids, locked in Jupiter’s orbit, often called the Trojans.

These asteroids have by no means been studied up-close earlier than and transfer as large swarms, or camps, on the “Lagrangian factors” in Jupiter’s orbit. The Lagrangian factors are areas the place gravity’s push and pull lock the camps in place, main and trailing Jupiter in its journey across the solar in perpetuity.

The gathering of amorphous house rocks are like a collection of cosmic fossils, offering a window into the earliest period of our photo voltaic system some 4.6 billion years in the past. Lucy will act as a cosmic palaeontologist, flying previous these eight completely different “fossils” at a distance and learning the floor with infrared imagers and cameras. 

“No spacecraft has visited so many objects earlier than, and every is a possible window into the fabric and circumstances of the early photo voltaic system,” says Alan Duffy, an astrophysicist at Swinburne College in Melbourne.   

The concept of analyzing fossils is core to the missions philosophy — proper all the way down to its title. “Lucy” is derived from a hominid skeleton found in Ethiopia in 1974. The skeleton was dubbed Lucy as a result of the Beatles’ tune “Lucy within the Sky With Diamonds” was enjoying within the scientists’ camp after the discover. Words from all four Beatles are contained on a plaque inside the spacecraft

Whereas the early morning launch and separation was marked down as a hit on Lucy in depth to-do record, the spacecraft needed to overcome one last, big hurdle earlier than it was able to sail out of Earth’s yard. About one hour into its flight, the probe experienced “20 minutes of terror,” as it unfurled its 24 foot wide decagonal solar panels

The panels are vital to the spacecraft’s success and can energy Lucy in the course of the 12-year journey towards the Trojans. They will provide about 500 watts of energy — about the identical quantity of vitality essential to run a washer, according to NASA. They usually’ll want each watt as a result of Lucy would be the farthest solar-powered spacecraft ought to it attain its locations.

Lucy’s advanced trajectory and flyby dates.


Ninety-one minutes after launch, the workforce acquired sign from Lucy confirming the photo voltaic panels had deployed. “Issues had been splendid at present,” stated Omar Baez, the senior launch director of NASA’s Launch Providers Program. 

Which means Lucy is alive and effectively and now there’s numerous floor to cowl earlier than its reaches its first object of curiosity: Donaldjohanson, an area rock positioned within the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. That flyby will happen in April 2025. 

From there, Lucy will swing towards the Trojans, reaching 4 worlds all through 2027 and 2028 within the Greek camp, the swarm of rocks main Jupiter in orbit. One other Earth flyby will assist propel Lucy to its last targets, Patroclus and its binary companion Menoetius, within the Trojan camp trailing Jupiter in 2033. In whole, the spacecraft will cowl 4 billion miles.

Lucy’s bold essential mission will not essentially finish with Patroclus and Menoetius, both. The spacecraft’s orbit will see it drift by the swarms for years to return. NASA has a very good observe file with extending missions — however you may should preserve your fingers crossed every part goes effectively for the subsequent decade. | NASA’s Lucy spacecraft launches on first ever mission to Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids


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