NASA’s innovative spacecraft with the goal of sifting through the secrets of Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids has been equipped with two very special cameras, such as the countdown to launch ticks below the twelve-month mark. Lucy, as the asteroid’s mission is known, will be the first exploration of Trojan rocks that, although relatively small in comparison to its planetary neighbor, can have an extraordinary impact in terms of scientific knowledge.
In fact, scientists predicted that the rocks could be leftover materials that formed the outer planets of our solar system. This could make them repositories of materials from more than 4 billion years ago, rotating in the same orbit as Jupiter.
There are two primary groups of asteroids, one of which precedes Jupiter and the other follows the planet. These Lagrange points were instrumental in stabilizing the asteroid fields at all times. Lucy – the name of the fossil that helped scientists discover humanity’s evolutionary path – is scheduled to be launched in October 2021, then it will take 12 years to visit eight different asteroids. Along the way, it will gather data that scientists believe can unlock the secrets of how the solar system was formed and even the origins of organic material on Earth.
This requires some special instruments, and these are the ones that NASA and the Lucy team are finalizing. The first and second, named L’TES and L’LORRI, had already been installed on the spacecraft’s platform, along with two terminal tracking cameras. Now, NASA has confirmed, the final instrument – L’Ralph – has been assembled.
In fact, they are two search tools in one. Built by NASA’s Goddard Space Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, it combines the Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) and the Linear Etalon Imaging Spectral Array (LEISA), two highly specialized imagers designed to work together.
The MVIC was designed to work with visible light, capturing color images of Trojan asteroids. At the same time, LEISA is responsible for capturing the infrared spectrum of asteroids. The result is an insight into the composition of the mysterious rocks.
All of this data will be sent back to Earth, which is no small undertaking. Lucy is, in fact, designed to be flexible: her research tools are connected to the “Instrument Pointing Platform” that can be tilted to face asteroids as the spacecraft passes them. A high-gain antenna, used to archive data with receivers in Goddard, can then be pointed separately backwards to maximize stability and data throughput.
Next, the team – led by the Southwest Research Institute, with NASA providing general mission management, systems engineering and security and mission assurance as part of NASA’s Discovery Program, and with the construction of the Lockheed Martin Lucy Space – is bringing the Instrument Pointing Platform along with the spaceship shuttle.