Science & Technology

NASA’s Lucy Mission Prepares for Launch To Study “Fossils” of Planet Formation

Lucy will discover the Jupiter Trojan asteroids – regarded as “fossils of planet formation.” Credit score: NASA’s Goddard House Flight Middle

NASA has examined the features of Lucy, the company’s first spacecraft to review Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids, crammed it with gas, and is getting ready to pack it right into a capsule for launch Saturday, October 16, 2021.

Named after characters in Greek mythology, these asteroids circle the Solar in two swarms, with one group main forward of Jupiter in its path, the opposite trailing behind it. Lucy would be the first spacecraft to go to these asteroids. By finding out these asteroids up shut, scientists hope to hone their theories on how our photo voltaic system’s planets fashioned 4.5 billion years in the past and why they ended up of their present configuration.

“With Lucy, we’re going to eight never-before-seen asteroids in 12 years with a single spacecraft,” stated Tom Statler, Lucy undertaking scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “This can be a incredible alternative for discovery as we probe into our photo voltaic system’s distant previous.”

Following all pandemic protocols, Lucy crew members have spent the previous eight weeks at NASA’s Kennedy House Middle in Florida, getting ready the spacecraft for flight. Engineers have examined the spacecraft’s mechanical, electrical, and thermal techniques and practiced executing the launch sequence from the mission operations facilities at Kennedy and Lockheed Martin House in Littleton, Colorado. In early August, engineers put in the spacecraft’s high-gain antenna, its second most outstanding function after the expansive solar arrays, which is able to enable the spacecraft to speak with Earth.

The United Launch Alliance (ULA) Centaur stage for NASA’s Lucy mission is lifted by crane into the Vertical Integration Facility close to House Launch Complicated 41 at Cape Canaveral House Drive Station in Florida on Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021. The Lucy spacecraft is scheduled to launch no sooner than Saturday, Oct. 16, on a ULA Atlas V 401 rocket from Pad 41. NASA’s Launch Providers Program based mostly at Kennedy House Middle is managing the launch. Over its 12-year main mission, Lucy will discover a record-breaking quantity of asteroids, flying by one asteroid within the photo voltaic system’s essential belt and 7 Trojan asteroids. Moreover, Lucy’s path will circle again to Earth 3 times for gravity assists, making it the primary spacecraft ever to return to the neighborhood of Earth from the outer photo voltaic system. Credit score: NASA/Kim Shiflett

“There was rather a lot of hands-on work,” stated Donya Douglas-Bradshaw, Lucy undertaking supervisor at NASA’s Goddard House Flight Middle in Greenbelt, Maryland. “This summer time has passed by so quick; it’s laborious to imagine we’re practically at launch.”

On September 18, propulsion engineers completed filling Lucy’s gas tanks with roughly 1,600 kilos (725 kilograms) of liquid hydrazine and liquid oxygen, which make up 40% of the mass of the spacecraft. The gas can be used for exact maneuvers that may propel Lucy to its asteroid locations on schedule, whereas the photo voltaic arrays – every the width of a college bus – will recharge the batteries that may energy spacecraft devices.

The Lucy spacecraft will quickly be packed into the 2 halves of the launch automobile fairing, which is able to shut round it like a clamshell. After the spacecraft is encapsulated, the Lucy crew will be capable of talk with it electrically by means of an “umbilical twine.”

“Launching a spacecraft is sort of like sending a toddler off to school – you’ve executed what can for them to get them prepared for that subsequent massive step on their very own,” stated Hal Levison, the principal investigator of the Lucy mission, based mostly on the Southwest Analysis Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

In early October, the encapsulated spacecraft can be transported to the Car Integration Facility on the Cape Canaveral House Drive Station, the place it will likely be “mated” with the United Launch Alliance Atlas V 401 rocket. The Atlas V will carry off from House Launch Complicated 41. The rocket will carry Lucy exterior Earth’s ambiance to start the lengthy journey to the Trojan asteroids.

A number of days previous to launch, engineers will energy up the Lucy spacecraft in preparation for the mission. This course of will take about 20 minutes.

“The spacecraft will sit in launch configuration and the engineering crew will constantly monitor its well being and standing to ensure Lucy is able to go,” stated Jessica Lounsbury, the Lucy undertaking techniques engineer at Goddard. “After which it’s launch day.”

Lucy’s first launch try is scheduled for 5:34 a.m. EDT on October 16. That day, the crew can be “referred to as to stations” at 1 a.m., which is when everybody is predicted to reach at mission management and different stations to observe the spacecraft and run by means of the complete launch countdown procedures. If climate or every other points prohibit a launch that day, the crew could have further launch alternatives starting the next day.

Southwest Analysis Institute in Boulder, Colorado, is the house establishment of the principal investigator for the Lucy mission. Goddard offers total mission administration, techniques engineering, and security and mission assurance. Lockheed Martin House in Littleton, Colorado, constructed the spacecraft. Lucy is the thirteenth mission in NASA’s Discovery Program. NASA’s Marshall House Flight Middle in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the Discovery Program for the company’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The launch is managed by NASA’s Launch Providers Program based mostly at Kennedy.

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