The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is all set to launch its first spacecraft to study Jupiter's Trojan asteroids. On Tuesday, NASA tested the functions of Lucy, a planned NASA space probe that will complete a 12-year journey to seven different asteroids, filled it with fuel, and is preparing to pack it into a capsule for launch on Saturday, October 16, the space agency said in a statement.
The team members have also prepped for the space mission adhering to the COVID-19 pandemic norms. Following all pandemic protocols, Lucy team members have spent the past eight weeks at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, preparing the spacecraft for flight.
“There has been a lot of hands-on work,” said Donya Douglas-Bradshaw, Lucy's project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The Lucy spacecraft will soon be packed into the two halves of the launch vehicle fairing, which will close around it like a clamshell. After the spacecraft is encapsulated, the Lucy team will be able to communicate with it electrically through an “umbilical cord," NASA informed.
“Launching a spacecraft is almost like sending a child off to college – you’ve done what can for them to get them ready for that next big step on their own,” said Hal Levison, the principal investigator of the Lucy mission, based at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.
Lucy’s first launch attempt is scheduled for 5:34 am EDT on October 16. On September 18, propulsion engineers finished filling Lucy’s fuel tanks with approximately 1,600 pounds (725 kilograms) of liquid hydrazine and liquid oxygen, which make up 40% of the mass of the spacecraft.
"The fuel will be used for precise manoeuvres that will propel Lucy to its asteroid destinations on schedule, while the solar arrays – each the width of a school bus – will recharge the batteries that will power spacecraft instruments," NASA added.
In early October, the encapsulated spacecraft will be transported to the Vehicle Integration Facility at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, where it will be “mated” with the United Launch Alliance Atlas V 401 rocket. The Atlas V will lift off from Space Launch Complex 41. The rocket will carry Lucy outside Earth’s atmosphere to begin the long journey to the Trojan asteroids.
#LucyMission is packing up for its trip to space! 💼— NASA (@NASA) September 28, 2021
Our first trip to Jupiter's ancient Trojan asteroids is set to launch on Oct. 16 — here's what's left on its to-do list before liftoff: https://t.co/d8aIOQGaOK pic.twitter.com/R5hfnyeZO1
According to NASA, Jupiter Trojans or Trojan asteroids are a large group of celestial bodies that share a common planet. Named after characters in Greek mythology, these asteroids circle the Sun in two swarms, with one group leading ahead of Jupiter in its path, the other trailing behind it.
Lucy will be the first spacecraft to visit these asteroids. By studying these asteroids up close, scientists hope to hone their theories on how our solar system’s planets formed 4.5 billion years ago and why they ended up in their current configuration. “With Lucy, we’re going to eight never-before-seen asteroids in 12 years with a single spacecraft,” said Tom Statler, Lucy project scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
“This is a fantastic opportunity for discovery as we probe into our solar system’s distant past,” he added. However, as per NASA, in case the launch of the Lucy spacecraft is halted due to weather issues, the team will have additional launch opportunities beginning the following day.