NASA announces two missions for study of asteroids

Little is known about the composition and other properties of the Trojan asteroids near Jupiter.

Nasa intends to take up two new missions, which has the potential to study one of the earliest eras in the history of the solar system.

The mission is targeted for launch in October 2023, and the probe is expected to arrive at the asteroid seven years later by 2030 following an Earth-gravity assist spacecraft maneuver in 2024 and a flyby on planet Mars in 2025.

"These are true missions of discovery that integrate into NASA's larger strategy of investigating how the solar system formed and evolved", Jim Green, director of NASA's Planetary Science division, says in a statement. NASA this week announced it would fund for another year the Near Earth Object Camera project, which would launch an infrared telescope into space track potentially risky asteroids near Earth in 2021.

Lucy is slated to launch first in 2021 and will visit unexplored areas of "Trojan" asteroids clustered at the L4 and L5 points of Jupiter's orbit around the Sun, Ars Technica reported. The program has spawned all sorts of missions exploring our solar system, including the Lunar Prospector, Kepler space telescope and the future Mars InSight lander.

"Because the Trojans are remnants of the primordial material that formed the outer planets, they hold vital clues to deciphering the history of the solar system", he explained.

The new missions are named as Lucy and Psyche.

Each of these missions is part of the Discovery Program, which seeks to launch smaller, less resource-demanding missions alongside NASA's larger missions. Lucy also will build on the success of the OSIRIS-REx mission to asteroid Bennu, with the OTES instrument and several members of the OSIRIS-REx team.

"This is an opportunity to explore a new type of world - not one of rock or ice, but of metal", said Elkins-Tanton.

The mission will help scientists understand how planets and other bodies separated into their layers - including cores, mantles and crusts - early in their histories.

The principle investigator for the Lucy mission, Harold Levison, believes this will be a unique opportunity. The asteroid, 210 kilometres in diameter, is the only known body in the solar system with a metallic core accessible for study.

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

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.

  • Essie Rivera