Spaceflight Insider

Mission to Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids given the go ahead

Artist's depiction of the Lucy spacecraft studying Trojan asteroids orbiting with Jupiter. Image Credit: NASA

Artist’s depiction of the Lucy spacecraft studying Trojan asteroids orbiting with Jupiter. Image Credit: NASA

To date, NASA’s missions to the largest planet in our solar system, Jupiter, have focused on the giant gas planet itself. This could soon change as the space agency has just given the go ahead for the development of a spacecraft designed to study tiny bodies that travel alongside the “king of the planets.”

Circling the Sun along with Jupiter are an assortment of asteroids that are collectively known as Trojans. On Tuesday, October 31, 2018 NASA announced that it had given the go-ahead for the Lucy spacecraft to journey out into our solar system and study these primitive bodies.

This animation depicts where the Trojan asteroids follow Jupiter in its orbit. Image Credit: NASA

This animation depicts where the Trojan asteroids follow Jupiter in its orbit. Image Credit: NASA

If things proceed as the space agency has envisioned, Lucy will now undergo development for a planned 2021 launch date.

“Up until now this mission has entirely been on paper,” said Lucy Principal Investigator Hal Levison of the Southwest Research Institute stated via a release. “Now we have the go ahead to actually cut metal and start putting this spacecraft together.”

Lucy went from a paper spacecraft through a review referred to as “Key Decision Point C” within the space agency. While this moniker might sound dry, in terms of the exploration of the Trojans it is critical as it moves the proposed mission – to one that is under development, sets is cost as well as the mission’s schedule.

These details might seem rather broad, but they mean that specifics such as the instruments that will be incorporated into Lucy, the amount of funds set aside for the mission and an analysis of the potential dangers that Lucy might face will all be worked on.

“Today’s confirmation of Lucy is a key step towards better understanding the role that small bodies played in the formation of the Solar System and life on Earth,” said Adriana Ocampo, Lucy’s program executive at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC. “We congratulate the entire team for their hard work.”

With the approval milestone behind it, Lucy will now progress toward the next phase of its developmental “life” – Critical Design Review (CDR). The CDR takes a hard look at the spacecraft’s design. After the completion of the CDR the real work of getting the spacecraft ready to fly will begin.

Lucy’s instruments are designed to study the composition of the surface of the asteroids it visits as well as their properties and geology. The instruments selected will do so from fairly close proximity to these rocky bodies.

The mission’s expedition is slated to last about 12 years. During that time it is scheduled to visit one asteroid in our solar system’s main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter as well as six Trojan asteroids.

 “Lucy will be visiting both the L4  and L5 swarms, which lead and trail Jupiter by about 60 degrees in its orbit,” Levison told SpaceFlight Insider.

How did Lucy get her name? It’s a reference to beginnings. The “Lucy” that the spacecraft was named in honor of, was a member of the Australopithecus afarensis species. Her fossilized remains were discovered in the Afar Depression in Ethiopia on November 24, 1974. Lucy provided information about humanity’s evolution, our beginnings, and it is hoped that the Lucy spacecraft – will do the same.

Lockheed Martin has been selected to build Lucy with the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) located in Boulder, Colorado taking point as the organization that will handle Lucy’s scientific investigation. The management of the mission will be handled at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center located in Greenbelt, Maryland.  A number of other organizations are also involved with the project.

 

 

 

 

Tagged:

Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.

Reader Comments

I find it odd to realize that many of these Trojans are further from Jupiter then we are!

I’m glad to hear that another interplanetary mission is advancing toward realization. There’s so much to explore right here in our own Solar System!

P.S. Thank you for the animated simulation. I had never envisioned the Trojans moving so dynamically and fluidly in relation to each other and their Lagrange points.

⚠ Commenting Rules

Post Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.