Home / Space force / ULA wins contract to launch NASA’s Lucy mission to visit unexplored asteroids – Spaceflight Now

ULA wins contract to launch NASA’s Lucy mission to visit unexplored asteroids – Spaceflight Now

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File picture of a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5-401 rocket lifting off from Cape Canaveral. Credit score: United Launch Alliance

NASA has chosen United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rocket to dispatch the Lucy spacecraft on a mission from Cape Canaveral in October 2021 to fly by seven unexplored asteroids, together with six objects locked in orbits main and trailing Jupiter, the place scientists anticipate swarms of miniature worlds might maintain clues concerning the formation of the photo voltaic system.

The house company introduced the contract award to ULA on Thursday, extending the corporate’s historical past of launching outstanding interplanetary missions, a listing that features still-operating probes such because the InSight and Curiosity landers to Mars, the Juno spacecraft orbiting Jupiter, New Horizons within the Kuiper Belt, and the OSIRIS-REx asteroid pattern return mission.

Constructed by Lockheed Martin, the Lucy spacecraft will carry off aboard an Atlas 5 rocket with a four-meter (13-foot) diameter payload shroud and no strong rocket boosters, a variant often known as the “401” configuration. The launch will happen at ULA’s Advanced 41 launch pad at Cape Canaveral.

“We couldn’t be extra happy that NASA has chosen ULA to launch this wonderful planetary science mission,” mentioned Tory Bruno, ULA’s president and chief govt officer. “This mission has a once-in-a-lifetime planetary launch window, and Atlas 5’s world-leading schedule certainty, coupled with our reliability and efficiency offered the optimum car for this mission.”

The launch window for the Lucy mission opens Oct. 16, 2021, and extends a number of weeks. If the launch is delayed past the 2021 launch window, a backup alternative is offered roughly one 12 months later, in line with Simone Marchi, Lucy’s deputy undertaking scientist from the Southwest Analysis Institute.

“Our Atlas 5 rocket has launched 79 instances attaining 100 p.c mission success, and we sit up for working once more with our mission companions to discover our universe,” Bruno mentioned in an announcement.

The launch contract is valued at $148.three million, a determine that features the launch service and different mission-related prices, in line with NASA.

ULA mentioned NASA chosen the Atlas 5 rocket after a “aggressive launch service job order analysis” by the house company’s Launch Companies Program. ULA’s Atlas 5 and Delta Four rockets are licensed to launch NASA’s robotic interplanetary science missions, alongside SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launcher. Each firms are anticipated to submit bids for every job order competitors managed the Launch Companies Program.

After launching aboard the Atlas 5 rocket, Lucy will a mix of on-board thrusters and three gravity help flybys with Earth to spiral into an elongated orbit across the solar, first to come across a main-belt asteroid between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter in 2025, then to discover six objects farther out within the photo voltaic system 5 instances farther from the solar than the Earth.

Lucy would be the first mission to go to a category of photo voltaic system objects often known as the Trojan asteroids, which orbit in tandem with Jupiter, with teams forward of and behind the enormous planet in its path across the solar.

Artist’s idea of the Lucy spacecraft flying by Trojan asteroids. Credit score: NASA/SWRI

Scientists imagine the Trojan asteroids characterize a various pattern of the sorts of small planetary constructing blocks that populated the photo voltaic system after its formation Four.5 billion years in the past.

“If there’s something we’ve realized within the final 30 years, it’s the planets like Earth don’t kind, excuse the pun, in a vacuum,” mentioned Hal Levison, Lucy’s principal investigator from the Southwest Analysis Institute in Boulder. “They kind because of a fancy interplay of varied areas of the photo voltaic system handing materials backwards and forwards because the planets accreted. Because of this, to know the place a planet just like the Earth comes from, you actually have to know the system as a complete.”

That’s why NASA has launched, or is creating, almost a dozen robotic missions to discover asteroids, comets and objects within the distant Kuiper Belt — all within the final 25 years. Thomas Zurbuchen, head of NASA’s science directorate, mentioned the house company is investing between $5 billion and $6 billion in missions to small our bodies within the present decade.

“The explanation why these (objects) are significantly attention-grabbing is as a result of they’re sculpted by the formation of the planetary system, and a lot of the materials in it has remained roughly unchanged for the reason that starting of the photo voltaic system, and that’s why NASA has put a lot effort into making an attempt to know these our bodies,” Levison mentioned.

“Lucy will launch in nearly 1,000 days, which is somewhat intimidating to me,” Levison mentioned. “We’re going to have a main-belt asteroid rehearsal in 2025, and 5 Trojan encounters going between 2027 and 2033, for a complete of six objects as a result of one of many objects we’re learning goes to be a binary, which is, I have to admit, my favourite.”

Initially regarded as the remnant leftovers from the formation of Jupiter, the Trojan asteroids truly seem completely different from each other, with some showing reddish in coloration, and others have a darkish charcoal-like coloration.

Levison co-authored the Good mannequin, which suggests the photo voltaic system’s 4 big planets — Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune — all fashioned comparatively shut collectively, with a disk of mud and rocks extending farther from the solar.

“The Good mannequin predicts that this planetary system was unstable,” Levison mentioned. “The orbits went principally nuts. Uranus and Neptune gravitationally scattered off each other and had been thrown out into this disk of fabric by Jupiter and Saturn. The disk went kablooey due to the gravitational results of the planets, and … a lot of the materials was thrown out into interstellar house, however you may have a small inhabitants proper about Jupiter, which represents the Trojans.

“That is only a principle, but when that is all true, then the Trojan inhabitants represents objects that fashioned all through that disk (within the early photo voltaic system), so it’s a possibility for us to know that disk by simply going to the small area that we name the Trojans,” he mentioned.

“With a purpose to reap the benefits of this range, we’d like to have the ability to cowl a whole lot of actual property, and examine a whole lot of these objects,” Levison mentioned.

After Lucy’s launch, the spacecraft will return to fly by Earth on Oct. 16, 2022, and Dec. 13, 2024, to make use of the planet’s gravity to slingshot farther from the solar.

Throughout the course of its mission, Lucy will fly by six Jupiter Trojans. This time-lapsed animation exhibits the actions of the interior planets (Mercury, brown; Venus, white; Earth, blue; Mars, purple), Jupiter (orange), and the 2 Trojan swarms (inexperienced) through the course of the Lucy mission. Credit score: Astronomical Institute of CAS/Petr Scheirich

The probe will encounter its first extraterrestrial goal on April 20, 2025, when it speeds by the two.Four-mile-wide (three.9-kilometer) asteroid Donaldjohanson, named for the paleoanthropologist who found the fossil of Lucy, a human ancestor whose partial skeleton was found in Ethiopia in 1974.

“Lucy is known as after the human ancestor fossil as a result of these objects actually characterize the fossils of planet formation, so in honor of that, we named this asteroid Donald Johanson, the discoverer of Lucy,” Levison mentioned.

Lucy will fly by 4 objects in one of many Trojan swarms over a 15-month interval from August 2027 via November 2028, then return again to Earth for one more gravity help flyby on Dec. 26, 2030, to bend the spacecraft’s trajectory to goal for a binary pair of Trojan asteroids — named Patroclus and Menoetius — on March 2, 2033.

“This can be a flyby mission,” Levison mentioned. “We’re going to simply about every little thing that we are able to do throughout a flyby. We’re going to take a look at floor geology, we’re going to get colours, we’re going to get compositions, we’re going to have the ability to measure the mass of those objects as we fly through the use of the Doppler shift, and we’re going to search for satellites and rings.”

Lucy’s 4 main science devices — largely primarily based on flown on earlier interplanetary missions — can be mounted to an articulating platform on the high of the spacecraft, which stands round 15 toes (5 meters) tall and has two fan-shaped UltraFlex photo voltaic array wings constructed by Northrop Grumman Innovation Methods, previously often known as Orbital ATK. Lucy’s chemical propulsion system can be fueled by hydrazine for main in-space maneuvers.

The spacecraft is anticipated to weigh not more than three,163 kilos (1,435 kilograms) at launch, with gas loaded, Levison mentioned.

NASA selected Lucy in 2017 from 28 proposals submitted by U.S. science groups as a part of the Discovery line of cost-capped planetary probes, a program beneath which the company’s Mars Pathfinder rover, the Messenger mission to orbit Mercury, the Daybreak spacecraft that visited Vesta and Ceres within the asteroid belt, and the InSight lander presently on Mars had been developed, constructed and launched.

The Hubble House Telescope captured this view of the Patroclus-Menoetius binary pair in February 2018. Credit score: SWRI

Along with Lucy, NASA chosen the Psyche mission to discover a singular asteroid made virtually solely of iron-nickel steel. Psyche will launch in August 2022 and attain its vacation spot in January 2026.

The Lucy and Psyche missions prices to NASA are capped at $450 million every, excluding launch prices.

Here’s a preliminary timeline of Lucy’s mission:

  • Launch: Oct. 16, 2021
  • Deep House Maneuver 1: Nov. 15, 2021
  • Earth Flyby 1: Oct. 16, 2022
  • Deep House Maneuver 2: Feb. 2, 2024
  • Earth Flyby 2: Dec. 13, 2024
  • Donaldjohanson Flyby: April 20, 2025
  • Deep House Maneuver three: April three, 2027
  • Eurybates Flyby: Aug. 12, 2027
  • Polymele Flyby: Sept. 15, 2027
  • Deep House Maneuver Four: Sept. 29, 2027
  • Leucus Flyby: April 28, 2028
  • Orus Flyby: Nov. 11, 2028
  • Earth Flyby three: Dec. 26, 2030
  • Patroclus/Menoetius Flyby: March 2, 2033

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Comply with Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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