NASA news: Agency’s Trojan asteroid mission passes ‘critical’ milestone

NASA’s Lucy mission has passed a critical milestone prior to its pioneering mission to tour five of Jupiter’s mysterious Trojan asteroids. All parts of the unmanned probe aced a system integration review.

As a result, NASA’s cutting-edge spacecraft can now be assembled and tested in preparation for its scheduled October 2021 launch.

No one anticipated that we would be building a spacecraft under these circumstances

Hal Levison, Lucy Principal Investigator

If Lucy succeeds in its ambitious asteroid mission, NASA’s craft will be the first-ever to explore asteroids from up-close.

These ancient space rocks all orbit the gas giant and their intriguing compositions are expected to revolutionise our understanding of the outer solar system.

During its 12-year mission, Lucy will fly by seven Trojan asteroids, collecting data to help reveal the formation history of Earth’s cosmic neighbourhood.

Lucy’s latest mission milestone confirmed NASA’s facilities, support personnel, and plans and procedures are on schedule to support the spacecraft.

The coronavirus pandemic has adversely affected space programs as much as every other sector.

This lead NASA and its partners to postpone construction on some of the instruments and components.

NASA’s Lucy assembly, test and launch operations team were forced to draw-up a new schedule to allow researchers to reorder the assembly and testing timeline.

This provides components and subsystems the necessary flexibility to get the asteroid observer ready for its October 2021 launch.

Hal Levison, Lucy Principal Investigator, said: “No one anticipated that we would be building a spacecraft under these circumstances but I once again have been impressed by this team’s creativity and resiliency to overcome any challenge placed before them.”

Successful completion of this System Integration Review means the project can proceed with assembling and testing the spacecraft in preparations for launch.

The spacecraft is consequently on track to begin assembly, test and launch operations next month at a Lockheed Martin Space Systems facility.

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Another upcoming milestone is the Key Decision Point-D, which occurs after the project has completed a series of independent reviews.

These cover the technical health, schedule and cost of the project.

This is currently scheduled to take place later this month.

With flyby encounters past eight different asteroids – one in the Main Asteroid Belt and seven in the Trojan swarms, Lucy will be the first space mission in history to explore so many different destinations in independent orbits around our Sun.

Last month, NASA’s other asteroid exploration mission Psyche passed its critical design review.

This allowed NASA to start making the various parts of the spacecraft.

The system integration review is the next big milestone in a mission’s lifecycle.

It takes place once all the parts have been made and tested separately.

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