Science

Lockheed Martin to build NASA's Lucy spacecraft, a mission to Trojan asteroids

Lockheed Martin to build NASA's Lucy spacecraft, a mission to Trojan asteroids

The Psyche mission, which is set to launch in October 2023, will send a robotic spacecraft to look for clues about early planetary formation. "Today, we can only guess what we will find".

Its SSL unit in Palo Alto, Calif., will provide a spacecraft platform equipped with a high-power solar electric propulsion system. The mission marks the first time spacecraft will visit a metallic asteroid, an extremely rare object in the solar system.

"This is an opportunity to explore a new type of world - not one of rock or ice, but of metal", said Psyche Principal Investigator Lindy Elkins-Tanton of Arizona State University in Tempe. "We learn about inner space by visiting outer space".

This project, known as Psyche, went from concept to reality on Wednesday (Jan. 4), when NASA announced the mission's official selection as part of the agency's Discovery Program, which develops relatively low-priced robotic exploration missions.

Jim Green, planetary science director at NASA, stated that "These are true missions of discovery that integrate into NASA's larger strategy of investigating how the solar system formed and evolved". "This is what Discovery Program missions are all about - boldly going to places we've never been, to enable groundbreaking science", said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. However it was plans to study an era less than 10 million years after the birth of the Sun that made the final cut. It will reach the Trojans about four years later and will study six of them, plus an asteroid belt. Lucy will travel to Jupiter's Trojan asteroids, while the Psyche mission will move to a larger, metallic asteroid.

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The Discovery announcement suggests a growing enthusiasm for asteroid research.

Lucy will be launched on 2021. Over 20 months, the spacecraft will collect data about Psyche's composition and topography, and, as is standard for robotic missions these days, return attractive, GIF-able images of the asteroid. But this mission is perhaps the unluckiest of them all.

Looking beyond the 2020s, NASA's asteroid kick is especially exciting for supporters of asteroid mining.

It's also involved in a variety of high-technology businesses including satellite-based data collection and information technology. Trojan is considered as the most ancient asteroid. Planetary Resources received almost $27 million of that in November. "What we're trying to do is try and determine how Jupiter and the other giant planets actually got there".

In just a few years, scientists would finally be able to study Psyche more thoroughly as a robotic probe would gather data from this odd world in close proximity.


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