The first mission to visit a mysterious swarm of asteroids orbiting the sun on Jupiter's path has taken an important hurdle on the way to their launch in 2021.
The NASA Robot Mission Lucy Mission which will visit six Trojan asteroids during its operational lifetime, passed the Critical Design Review (CDR) just announced on Friday (October 18).
During the four-day CDR, independent experts assessed all aspects This is a very exciting time for Lucy.
Related: Photos: Asteroids in Space
"This is a very exciting time for Lucy as we move beyond the design stage and really start to move the spaceship "said Lucy, principal investigator Hal Levison of the Southwest Research Institute of Boulder, Colorado, in a statement . 21
The Trojan asteroids orbit the Sun in two groups, one before Jupiter (the "leading swarm") and one behind the gas giant (the "swarming"). Scientists believe that these space rocks are remnants of the long-standing outer planets, and are therefore anxious to take some close-up shots.
"These primitive bodies contain important clues to decipher the history of the solar system and perhaps even the origins of life and organic material on Earth," NASA officials wrote in a Lucy Missionary Description. Twice on Earth in October 2021 to get "gravity aids" and fly in April 2025 with the first asteroid. The rock known as (52246) Donaldjohanson lies in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.  Lucy will then fly past four Trojans in the main swarm, with the rendezvous taking place in August 2027, September 2027, April 2028 and November 2028. The spaceship's orbit will bring Lucy back to the sun, and when she flies out again, she'll be on a trajectory toward the trailing swarm. The probe will cruise past a trailing binary Trojan in March 2033, marking the grand finale of the mission.
No other space mission has ever visited as many independent orbit targets as members of the Lucy mission team said.
Incidentally, the name of the mission is an allusion to the famous 3.2 million-year-old hominid fossil discovered by paleontologists Donald Johanson and Tom Gray in Ethiopia in 1974. (The Lucy team named Johanson after the main belt asteroid the probe will visit.)
Just as the discovery of the fossil Lucy revealed the origins of humanity, the Lucy spaceship gains important insights into the early years and years of the solar system provide evolution, said members of the mission team.
Lucy is part of NASA's discovery program for cost-effective, focused planetary exploration missions. According to NASA representatives, the development costs of Lucy amount to about 450 million US dollars.
Other discovery missions include the InSight Mars Lander, the Kepler Space Telescope, the Mercury spacecraft Messenger, and the Dawn probe orbiting the dwarf planets Vesta and Ceres. Another Discovery Mission called Psyche is scheduled to launch in 2022 to explore the mysterious metallic asteroid of the same name.
Mike Walls book on the Search for Extraterrestrial Life, Out There (Grand Central Publishing, 2018, illustrated by Karl Tate ) is available now. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall . Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook .