Nasa to explore early solar system with two new missions

Earlier this week, NASA chose to fund an eponymous robotic mission to Psyche, scheduled to launch in 2023.

Recently the US Space agency, NASA has declared the launch of two new missions.

"This is a unique opportunity", said Harold F. Levison, principal investigator of the Lucy mission from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. The Kepler space telescope has discovered hundreds of exoplanets since its launch in 2009; MESSENGER mission put the first spacecraft into Mars orbit in 2011; and Dawn orbited one asteroid in 2011 before zooming over toward another previous year, helping scientists understand the formation of rocky and icy bodies. Psyche, on the other hand, will travel to a 130-mile-wide asteroid that is nearly entirely made of metal: a rarity that astronomers believe was once the core of a long-gone planet, Loren Grush reports for The Verge.

Its SSL unit in Palo Alto, Calif., will provide a spacecraft platform equipped with a high-power solar electric propulsion system.

According to the scientists at NASA, it is hoped that mission Lucy will visit Jupiter's mysterious Trojan asteroids and Psyche will study a unique metal asteroid that has never been visited before and is three times farther away from the Sun than the Earth is. NASA also now has two asteroid-focused missions in progress: the Dawn mission surrounding Ceres and the OSIRIS-REx mission en route to the asteroid Bennu, Sarah Kaplan reports for The Washington Post.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Lucy spacecraft, which will explore two swarms of asteroids that accompany the planet Jupiter on its 12-year orbit around the sun, will be built by Lockheed Martin, the company said in a press release.

The new missions are named as Lucy and Psyche. But while these missions could unveil new details about the origins of our cosmic neighborhood, the decision means that future missions to planets like Venus have been put on the backburner. The craft will go to a 130-mile-wide asteroid known as 16 Psyche that is thought to be made up mostly of metallic iron and nickel.

Lucy will be launched on 2021. The NEOCam space telescope is created to survey regions of space closest to Earth's orbit, where potentially hazardous asteroids may be found.

"The design of the spacecraft draws from the flight-proven [Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer] spacecraft now on its way to a near-Earth asteroid", said Guy Beutelschies, director of interplanetary systems at Lockheed's space systems business.

"These are true missions of discovery that integrate into NASA's larger strategy of investigating how the solar system formed and evolved", said NASA's Planetary Science Director Jim Green. "So understanding how they formed has impacts on how we understand how the Earth got here". They are managed for NASA's Planetary Science Division by the Planetary Missions Program Office at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. It will be launched in 2023 and reach its destination by 2030. These two missions aim to dig up information regarding the history of the solar system.

  • Joey Payne