NASA has approved a new mission that's focused on studying and visiting distant asteroids. One of the main goals of the mission is to visit a specific group of asteroids that are known to share the same orbit as the planet Jupiter.
Last week, the team behind a new NASA mission known as Lucy went through a crucial process called Critical Design Review. The procedure, which was conducted from Oct. 15 to 18, was carried out by NASA to review the various aspects of the mission. Some of the factors analyzed by NASA include the Lucy mission's payload instruments, systems engineering and its flight hardware and software.
After passing the review process, NASA has given the team behind the Lucy mission the green light to start manufacturing the necessary systems and equipment that will be used for the project. This includes building the main spacecraft that will carry out the mission.
"This is a very exciting time for us because we are moving beyond the design phase and a really starting to build the spacecraft," said Hal Levison of the Southwest Research Institute in Colorado and the head investigator for the Lucy mission said in a statement. "It is finally becoming real!"
The team expects to launch the mission sometime in October 2021. It will focus on studying and visiting six space rocks that are part of a large group of asteroids known as Trojans. These asteroids are known to share in the same orbit as Jupiter as it travels around the Sun. Lucy will be the first mission to study the Trojan asteroids. Aside from the Trojan asteroids, the Lucy mission will also observe a space rock from the asteroid belt.
"I am constantly amazed at the dedication and diversity of skills that our team brings to this project," Keith Noll of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and the Lucy mission's project scientist said. "Day by day the mission comes into clearer focus and the mission critical design review is the latest milestone in our journey to launch just two years from now."
The entire mission is expected to last for about a decade. For NASA, closely studying asteroids especially those that are very far from Earth is very important. Many scientists believe that these asteroids are made from the same materials that led to the formation of planets. Having a better understanding of asteroids could shed light on how planets are formed.