NASA’s Lucy spaceship begins its wild journey around the solar system

The first leg of Lucy’s wild loop journey is underway.

The NASA spacecraft was launched at 4:34 a.m. CDT on Saturday from the Cape Canaveral space station in Florida. His 12-year mission will visit asteroids that share Jupiter’s orbit around the sun and may hold secrets about the formation of our solar system.

Lucy will fly over an asteroid in the main asteroid belt, located between Mars and Jupiter, five Trojan asteroids that orbit in front of Jupiter and two Trojan asteroids that orbit behind Jupiter. These Trojan asteroids are remnants of the material that formed the outer planets.

NASA’s Lucy spacecraft will make a 12-year journey to visit eight asteroids. Pictured is the loop path it will take to fly through one main belt asteroid and seven Trojan asteroids.

South West Research Institute

And to reach all of these asteroids – most by a single spacecraft – Lucy will have a trajectory that was “part scientific, part artistic and part lucky,” said Hal Levison, Lucy’s principal investigator at the Southwest Research Institute, during of a press conference.

Lucy begins by orbiting the sun for a year. Around this time next year, it will align with Earth and benefit from gravitational assistance that places Lucy on a two-year elliptical trajectory. Then, when he is close to Earth again in 2024, another boost will direct him to the Main Asteroid Belt and the Trojan asteroids orbiting in front of Jupiter. Lucy will reach these Trojan asteroids in 2027 and 2028.

Lucy will visit Eurybates and its satellite, Queta, in August 2027, Polymele in September 2027, Leucus in April 2028 and Orus in November 2028. The spacecraft then returns to Earth, receives another gravitational assist, and is projected towards the orbiting asteroids behind. Jupiter. . It will reach Patroclus and Menoetius, who revolve around each other, in 2033.

“When I first saw this (trajectory),” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator, NASA Science Mission Directorate, “I looked at it like, ‘You’re kidding me.’ It’s possible?'”

The Lucy assignment was the first approved by Zurbuchen in 2017, a few months after joining the agency.

In total, Lucy will travel nearly 4 billion kilometers. And Lucy will never be closest to Jupiter when the spaceship is near Earth. Trojan asteroids are, on average, as far from Jupiter as Jupiter is from the sun.

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