A little while ago NASA’s Lucy mission blasted off atop an Atlas V 401 rocket from Cape Canaveral. Almost 58 minutes after launch, the space probe separated regularly from the rocket’s last stage and entered the trajectory that is programmed to lead it towards Jupiter’s orbit, where there are the so-called Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids. There, Lucy will begin a series of flybys on a mission that is expected to last approximately 12 years.
Selected in 2017, the Lucy mission owes its name to the Australopithecus with that nickname. The reason for the choice is that the asteroids that this space probe will visit are considered fossils from the time of the solar system’s formation. The accretion of materials in increasingly larger bodies led to the formation of planets and their moons but a small part of those materials wasn’t absorbed by them and remained in various orbits in the form of asteroids and comets.
Some groups of asteroids are called Jupiter’s Trojans and have stable orbits thanks to a gravitational balance. The Lucy mission is really ambitious because the expected duration is 12 years during which the goal is to fly by to a total of 8 asteroids. According to the program, the first asteroid it will reach, in 2025, will be one in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, 52246 Donaldjohanson. Between 2027 and 2028 it will fly by 3548 Eurybates, 15094 Polymele, 11351 Leucus, and 21900 Orus, Trojans in orbit in the area called L4. Later, it will return to Earth in a maneuver that will launch it towards the L5 area, where it will arrive in 2033 to fly by 617 Patroclus and its satellite Menoetius.
Lucy’s instruments will be used to collect data on the asteroids visited. It’s no coincidence that two of these instruments are derived from those of the New Horizons space probe, the protagonist of the extraordinary Pluto flyby and asteroid Arrokoth flyby in the Kuiper Belt: L’Ralph for spectroscopic mapping in infrared and photographs in frequencies visible and the high-resolution L’LORRI camera. The third instrument, L’TES, is an infrared thermal spectrometer derived from that of another NASA mission linked to asteroids, OSIRIS-REx.
The Lucy space probe has begun its long journey. Many maneuvers will be required just to begin the first phase of its scientific mission, which is why it will take a long time to reach the mission’s target asteroids. It’s an important mission to gather more significant information to reconstruct the solar system’s history.