A nearly billion dollar NASA spacecraft named Lucy officially launched on Saturday morning, in what is the beginning of a 12-year journey to explore eight different asteroids.
The spaceship will be the first to tour the so-called Trojan asteroids that orbit Jupiter and are ‘time capsules from the birth of our Solar System,’ according to NASA scientists from the Goddard Space Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
NASA says the Lucy space mission will revolutionize our knowledge of planetary origins and the formation of the solar system, giving insight into planetary evolution.
Lucy launched into orbit on Saturday at 5:34 am on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.
The $981 million mission spaceship also carries a plaque that includes quotes from the likes of Carl Sagan, Albert Einstein and the Beatles.
Lucy, pictured, launched into orbit on Saturday at 5:34 am on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida
The $981 million mission spaceship also carries a plaque that includes quotes from the likes of Carl Sagan, Albert Einstein and the Beatles
Lucy will be the first to tour the so-called Trojan asteroids that orbit Jupiter and are ‘time capsules from birth of our Solar System
As it happens, the mission takes its name from the fossilized human ancestor, named ‘Lucy’ by her discovers, whose skeleton provided unique insights into our evolution, as well as the song ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ by aforementioned The Beatles.
In a prerecorded video for NASA, Beatles drummer Ringo Starr paid tribute to his late bandmate John Lennon, who wrote the song that helped inspire the ship’s name.
‘I’m so excited — Lucy is going back in the sky with diamonds. Johnny will love that,’ Starr said.
‘Anyway, if you meet anyone up there, Lucy, give them peace and love from me.’
On Thursday, Lucy, along with the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, was rolled out of the Vertical Integration Facility to the launch pad at Space Launch Complex 41.
To make it work, NASA had to convert the booster, removing two solid rocket motors and replacing features designed to work with a crew capsule.
‘I think overall it ended up in a situation that worked out really well,’ ULA Chief Operating Officer John Elbon said of the change.
Thanks to the NASA team, Lucy was able to launch on Saturday morning as scheduled.
Now that it has launched, Lucy will fly around the Earth twice to adjust its trajectory and get it on its way to the outer parts of the solar system.
Its first asteroid visit will be in April 2025, when it will take a look at a main-belt asteroid called DonaldJohanson, named after the paleoanthropologist behind the fossil Lucy discovery, Donald Johanson.
NASA says Lucy mission will revolutionize our knowledge of planetary origins and the formation of the solar system, giving insight into planetary evolution
On Thursday, Lucy, along with the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, was rolled out of the Vertical Integration Facility to the launch pad at Space Launch Complex 41
The Lucy spacecraft has solar panels on each side to help power its instruments and is 51.8 feet wide and over 46 feet from tip to tip
EIGHT ASTEROIDS TO BE VISITED BY LUCY
Lucy will visit eight asteroids during its 12 year mission, starting with one in the main asteroid belt beyond Mars.
This is known as Donaldjohanson and will be visited in April 2025.
Seven Trojan asteroids are named after characters from Greek mythology.
They are Eurybates, Queta, Polymele, Leucus, Orus, Patroclus and Menoetius.
Most of the mission’s visits will occur in 2027 and 2028; its final planned flyby will take place in March 2033.
Johanson said he had goose bumps watching Lucy take flight— ‘I will never look at Jupiter the same … absolutely mind-expanding.’ He said he was filled with wonder about this ‘intersection of our past, our present and our future.’
‘That a human ancestor who lived so long ago stimulated a mission which promises to add valuable information about the formation of our solar system is incredibly exciting,’ said Johanson, of Arizona State University, who traveled to Cape Canaveral for his first rocket launch according to AOL.
Meanwhile the first Trojan asteroid flyby will not happen for another two years, when Lucy gets closer to Jupiter in August 2027.
The vast majority of the asteroid visits will happen in 2027 and 2028, with a final asteroid flyby scheduled to happen in March 2033.
As well as viewing some of the oldest rocks in the solar system, Lucy’s path will cross the Earth three times, as it uses our planet’s gravity to aid in its positioning.
This move will make it the first ever spacecraft to return to Earth from the outer solar system, as all others are either still going – in the case of the Viking probes – or burnt up in the atmosphere of a gas giant, as was the case with Cassini and Saturn.
The Lucy mission probe is 51.8ft wide and 46ft from top to bottom, and comes equipped with solar panels on each side that help power its instruments.
These instruments include a color visible imager, a thermal emission spectrometer, and a infrared imaging spectrometer.
There are currently over 4,800 known Trojan asteroids, with 65 percent of them are in the L4 group, while the other 35 percent are in the L5 group
The Trojan asteroids are known as the ‘fossils’ of the early solar system because they are comprised of ancient material that was around when the planets formed
The Trojan asteroids orbit the sun in two massive swaths – the one in front of Jupiter (L4) and one that is behind it, known as L5
NASA’s Lucy mission to the Trojan asteroids that orbit Jupiter will bring a plaque that will act as a ‘time-capsule,’ including quotes from Carl Sagan, Albert Einstein, The Beatles and more
The thermal emission spectrometer, known as L’TES, measures the surface temperature of the Trojan asteroids by observing the thermal infrared spectrum, helping to understand the physical properties of the surface material.
Lucy Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (L’LORRI), is a high resolution visible camera that will provide the most detailed images of the surface of the asteroids.
Then there is L’Ralph, the final of the three instruments, which will reveal the absorption lines that serve as the fingerprints for different silicates, ices and organics that may be on the surface of the Trojan asteroids.
L’Ralph also has a visible imaging camera that will take color pictures of the asteroids to help scientists determine what they are made of.
‘This team has put in so much work to build a spacecraft that is truly a work of art,’ said Donya Douglas-Bradshaw, the Lucy project manager, adding ‘it’s been powered on, the team is monitoring it and we are ready to launch.’
WHAT WILL LUCY STUDY?
Lucy will launch in October 2021 and, with boosts from Earth’s gravity, will complete a 12-year journey to eight different asteroids.
This will include a Main Belt asteroid, that orbits between Mars and Jupiter, and seven Trojans stuck in a gravitational lock between Jupiter and the Sun.
Four of which are members of ‘two-for-the-price-of-one’ binary systems.
Lucy’s complex path will take it to both clusters of Trojans that are in orbit around the gas giant, at the L4 and L5 points.
They will give us our first close-up view of all three major types of bodies in the swarms – known as C-, P- and D-types of asteroids.
The dark-red P- and D-type Trojans resemble those found in the Kuiper Belt of icy bodies that extends beyond the orbit of Neptune.
The C-types are found mostly in the outer parts of the Main Belt of asteroids, between Mars and Jupiter.
All of the Trojans are thought to be abundant in dark carbon compounds.
Below an insulating blanket of dust, they are probably rich in water and other volatile substances, dating back to the first days of the solar system.
No other space mission in history has been launched to as many different destinations in independent orbits around our sun. Lucy will show us, for the first time, the diversity of the primordial bodies that built the planets.