The Lucy Mission: Piecing Together the History of the Solar System

A 12-year mission to study the Asteroids surrounding Jupiter could reveal archaeological insights about the outer planets.

The Lucy spacecraft passing one of the Trojan Asteroids near Jupiter. Artist illustration courtesy Southwest Research Institute / NASA.

A Long Mission Lifespan

During its prime mission, Lucy will venture nearly 4 billion miles. The elaborate voyage will entail traveling more than three loops around the Sun using special circular solar arrays to generate the appropriate amount of power to complete its long journey. In another first, Lucy will travel out to Jupiter and return to Earth’s proximity — a maneuver necessary to initiate a gravity assist to send the space probe back to Jupiter’s orbit to conduct the final Trojan flybys.

During its prime mission, Lucy will venture nearly 4 billion miles. Artist illustration courtesy: Southwest Research Institute/NASA

A Window of Opportunity

Because of the orbital mechanics and intricate interplanetary course the spacecraft must navigate, the window for launch is fixed at about three weeks, starting October 16, if Lucy is to reach all of its planned targets. This small launch window still allows no room for error; the carefully calculated mission course means Lucy can observe each subject only once before proceeding to its next point of interest.

The United Launch Alliance (ULA) payload fairing secured around NASA’s Lucy spacecraft on Sept. 30, 2021. Photo courtesy NASA

Uncovering the Unknown

With the instruments onboard, Lucy will gain an in-depth view of its targets, ranging from the Asteroids’ material composition to surface temperature. The data gathered could help unlock a bigger picture of our Solar System.



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