Today marks T-1000 days to the launch of NASA’s Lucy Spacecraft, the first spacecraft to explore the Jupiter Trojan asteroids. These asteroids, which lead and follow Jupiter in its orbit by roughly 60 degrees, hold vital clues to the history of the Solar System. Over its 4156 day mission, Lucy will study six of these fascinating worlds. Lucy’s launch period opens on October 16, 2021 – 1000 days from today.
“Lucy provides us with a unique opportunity,” said Dr. Harold F. Levison, a program director and chief scientist in SwRI’s Boulder office and the principal investigator of the mission. “Because the Trojans are remnants of the stuff that formed the outer planets, they are literally the fossils of planet formation. Lucy, like the human fossil for which it is named, will revolutionize the understanding of our origins.”
Lucy is over halfway to launch. It has been just over 1200 days since Lucy was selected as one of five mission concepts to receive funding to carry out preliminary mission design as part of NASA’s Discovery program. And almost 750 days ago Lucy was selected for flight as the 13th Discovery mission.
Since that time the Lucy team has worked to finalize the mission requirements and preliminary design, and 80 days ago NASA confirmed that the Lucy Mission has a green light to finalize the design and begin construction. Now crunch time really begins! In less than 300 days Lucy will undergo its critical design review (CDR), finalizing its design in preparation for construction. The spacecraft body will be built in less than 400 days, and in less than 600 days all of the instruments and different components of the spacecraft will be built and the full spacecraft will be assembled. After rigorous testing at Lockheed Martin, in approximately 900 days the spacecraft will be sent to Kennedy Space Center for launch preparations.
Then begins the longest part of the spacecraft’s journey. It will be 6 years, or almost 2300 days, before Lucy reaches its first target, the Main Belt asteroid Donaldjohanson, named for one of the co-discoverers of the Lucy fossil. Then it will be over 3000 days before Lucy reaches its first Trojan asteroid, Eurybates. And Lucy will continue its tour of the Trojan Asteroids, encountering 3 more Trojans, before it flies by the final pair, Patroclus and Menoetius in 2033, over 5000 days from now.
Southwest Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado in the principal investigator institution for the Lucy Mission and will lead the science investigation. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland will provide overall mission management, systems engineering, and safety and mission assurance. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver, Colorado will build the spacecraft.