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Home » NASA’s Lucy Soon launches investigation into Trojan asteroids

NASA’s Lucy Soon launches investigation into Trojan asteroids

A NASA mission will soon take off to investigate Trojans, a lesser-studied group of asteroids in the outer solar system. The Lucy mission, named after the famous Australopithecus fossil that was key to understanding early human evolution, will launch later this month and could help us teach us how the solar system came to be. form.

The Centaur stage (ULA) of NASA's Lucy mission is lifted by a crane in the vertical integration facility.
The United Launch Alliance (ULA) Centaur stage for NASA’s Lucy mission is lifted by a crane in the vertical integration facility near Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida Thursday, September 16, 2021. NASA / Kim Shiflett

The spacecraft was brought to Florida, ready for launch from Space Launch Complex 41 at the Cape Canaveral Space Station on Saturday, October 16. Lucy will be launched on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 401 rocket from Pad 41, from where it will fly through Earth’s atmosphere, out of Earth’s orbit, and through the solar system to the Trojan asteroids.

The Trojans are located in the orbit of Jupiter, in two groups, one in front of the planet and the other behind. Astronomers believe these asteroids are remnants of some of the material that formed the planets in the early days of the solar system, so studying them can help us understand how planets are formed.

“With Lucy, we’re going to hit eight never-before-seen asteroids in 12 years with just one spacecraft,” said Tom Statler, Project Lucy scientist at NASA Headquarters. “This is a fantastic opportunity for discovery as we delve into the distant past of our solar system. “

An artist's concept of the Lucy mission.
An artist’s concept of the Lucy mission. SwRI

“There was a lot of hands-on work,” said Donya Douglas-Bradshaw, Lucy project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “This summer has gone by so quickly; it’s hard to believe we’re almost at launch.

As the spacecraft prepares for launch, its fuel tanks have been filled with a mixture of liquid hydrazine and liquid oxygen that will allow it to maneuver between asteroids. It also has its solar panels to recharge its scientific instruments from the sun.

“Launching a spaceship is almost like sending a kid to college – you’ve done what you can to get them ready for that next big step on their own,” said Hal Levison, the Principal investigator of the Lucy mission, based at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

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