Fu­ture tech Lucy in the sky

this new NASA mis­sion will search the un­charted chunks of space rock within the or­bit of jupiter

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The Lucy mis­sion will study Tro­jan as­ter­oids up close

in the first mis­sion of its kind, NASA will ven­ture to jupiter's mys­te­ri­ous tro­jan as­ter­oids. these space rocks or­bit in two groups – one ahead and one be­hind the gas gi­ant – in a grav­i­ta­tional bal­anc­ing act that oc­curs be­tween the Sun and jupiter, also known as a La­grange point. the mis­sion, named Lucy, was an­nounced in jan­uary 2017 as the 13th mis­sion of NASA’s dis­cov­ery Pro­gram, fol­low­ing such mis­sions as in­Sight, Ke­pler and MeS­SeN­Ger. this par­tic­u­lar mis­sion will be op­er­ated by

NASA’s God­dard Space Flight Cen­ter in Green­belt, Mary­land, United States and the South­west re­search in­sti­tute in San An­to­nio, texas.

Al­though the mis­sion is still in its pre­lim­i­nary de­sign phase the space­craft will in­clude a fine tuned re­mote-sens­ing in­stru­ment suite that will care­fully study the ge­ol­ogy, sur­face com­po­si­tion, ther­mal and phys­i­cal prop­er­ties, such as the masses and den­si­ties, of the tro­jan as­ter­oids. the suite will in­clude three sets of in­stru­ments in­clud­ing imag­ing and map­ping in­stru­ments with a colour imag­ing and in­frared map­ping spec­trom­e­ter, a high-res­o­lu­tion vis­i­ble imager and a ther­mal in­frared spec­trom­e­ter, de­signed and built by God­dard, johns hop­kins Univer­sity Ap­plied Physics Lab­o­ra­tory in Lau­rel, Mary­land, United States and Ari­zona State Univer­sity in tempe, United States, re­spec­tively.

once launched in oc­to­ber 2021, Lucy will un­dergo a 12-year mis­sion ded­i­cated to study­ing these prim­i­tive bod­ies, as sci­en­tists be­lieve they hold the key to un­der­stand­ing the early years of the So­lar Sys­tem and how the plan­ets formed and evolved, and pos­si­bly even the ori­gin of life on earth. the mis­sion was named af­ter the dis­cov­ery of the re­mains of a 3.2-mil­lion-year-old fe­male ho­minid as both have the same com­mon goal – to un­der­stand our past. Whether by un­der­stand­ing hu­man evo­lu­tion or un­der­stand­ing the evo­lu­tion of the So­lar Sys­tem, hu­man­ity strives to un­der­stand its past in or­der to in­flu­ence its fu­ture.

Be­tween the years of 2025 and 2033 Lucy will get up close to seven dif­fer­ent as­ter­oids, the first of which is in the main as­teroid belt, and then make its way out to the tro­jan as­ter­oids be­fore fin­ish­ing the mis­sion by ob­serv­ing a rare bi­nary as­teroid sys­tem. As­ter­oids are com­monly cat­e­gorised un­der dif­fer­ent ‘types’, such as C-types, P-types, d-types and many oth­ers, based on their ob­served char­ac­ter­is­tics and com­po­si­tions. the types spec­i­fied above are the ones Lucy will study, pro­vid­ing a fine spec­trum of anal­y­sis and al­low­ing sci­en­tists to as­cer­tain whether each type was formed in the main as­teroid belt be­tween Mars and jupiter or whether it was orig­i­nally cre­ated in the dis­tant Kuiper belt be­yond the or­bit of Nep­tune more than 4 bil­lion years ago.

this space­craft will do what no other mis­sion be­fore it has done in gain­ing valu­able data on mul­ti­ple des­ti­na­tions in in­de­pen­dent or­bits around the Sun and re­veal­ing the di­ver­sity of the an­cient rocks that are re­sid­ing in the very depths of the So­lar Sys­tem.

“once launched Lucy will un­dergo a 12-year mis­sion ded­i­cated to study­ing these prim­i­tive bod­ies”

Lucy’s or­bital path (shown in green) will search both Tro­jan as­teroid re­gions in a pret­zel-like tra­jec­toryTro­jans L4EarthJupiter L5Tro­jansLucy

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