NASA Lucy spaceship is one step closer to getting up close and personal with lots of weird space rocks when assembly begins.
Lucy will make an ambitious journey through the asteroid belt to the quarter of Jupiter, studying a total of eight different space rocks for nearly a decade. But before the spacecraft can begin its journey on the launch pad, which is currently scheduled for October 2021, it must become a spacecraft. And thanks to a recent stage that allows the integration of tools and the main vehicle, this is exactly what will happen next.
“Each phase of the mission is more exciting than the last,”
Connected: Scientists have identified a miniature satellite around an asteroid that the Lucy spacecraft will visit
While NASA has built many asteroid missions before, the agency has never visited Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids orbiting the sun in two large clusters, one behind Jupiter and one in front of it. (Lucy will also check the asteroid on the main belt that will pass along the way.)
Scientists hope the mission will give them a closer look at the main types of cosmic rocks found in Jupiter. Trojan clusters, all of which probably hide water deep below their surface. And because Trojans form at the same time as the solar system, they serve as separate fossils that can help scientists understand how our entire neighborhood was formed.
But first, Lucy must complete her program here on Earth. Recently passing NASA’s standard phase called Key Decision Point-D (KDP-D), Lucy’s engineers received the green light to assemble and test the spacecraft and its instruments, NASA announced on August 28.
Despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the spacecraft is about to receive its instruments from October, which will also see another procedural stage called the Mission Operation Review.
By July, NASA says, the spacecraft will be ready to travel to Florida to prepare for a last-minute launch. Lucy’s launch window opens on October 16, 2021, and the spacecraft will make its first asteroid flight in April 2025.
“This team was truly amazing,” said Dona Douglas-Bradshaw, Lucy’s project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. “Building a spaceship is never easy, but the fact that the team is working hard on all the challenges it faces is inspiring.”
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