NASA’s Lucy space probe launched successfully from Cape Canaveral in Florida early Saturday, the beginning of a 12-year mission to study Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids.
The uncrewed spacecraft lifted off at 5:34AM ET aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. Lucy sent its first signal to Earth from its own antenna to NASA’s Deep Space Network at 6:40AM ET. Scientists believe the Trojan asteroids, which orbit the Sun along the same path as Jupiter, may hold clues about the formation of our solar system. It’s NASA’s first-ever single-spacecraft mission to explore so many different asteroids, the
Lucy is named for the fossilized human skeleton
Lucy is on a complicated trajectory that will include three trips back toward Earth for gravity assists. First, Lucy will orbit the Sun and then head back toward Earth next year for a gravity assist. That will accelerate and direct the craft’s trajectory beyond Mars’ orbit, when Lucy will head back toward Earth again for another gravity assist in 2024. This will help propel the craft toward the Donaldjohanson asteroid in 2025; after that Lucy will head toward the Trojan asteroids, arriving in 2027. Then, after four targeted fly-bys, Lucy will head back to Earth for a third gravity assist in 2031, which will propel it toward the Trojans for another encounter in 2033.
“We started working on the Lucy mission concept early in 2014, so this launch has been long in the making,”