Science

NASA’s Lucy asteroid mission is in good time for Saturday’s launch. Here’s how to watch live.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – NASA’s latest planetary science mission, an asteroid-observing probe called Lucy that will fly through a record eight different asteroids, is ready for launch and you can watch the action live online.

Lucy and her rocket are on the platform, after leaving their hangar on Thursday (October 14). The duo, who are 188 feet tall (57.3 meters), aim for an early morning liftoff on Saturday (October 16) at 5:34 a.m. EDT (0934 GMT) from Space Launch Complex 41. at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket. Currently, with two days until liftoff, the weather forecast suggests only a 10% chance that poor conditions will interfere with launch.

You can watch the launch live here and on the Space.com home page, courtesy of NASA TV. Takeoff is scheduled for 5:34 am EDT (0934 GMT). NASA’s webcast will begin at 5 am EDT (0900 GMT).

Related: Learn About The 8 Asteroids NASA’s Lucy Spacecraft Will Visit

Weather officers from the 45th space delta at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station have predicted a 90% chance of favorable liftoff conditions. The only cause for concern is the possibility of cumulus clouds. There are backup pitch opportunities on Sunday and Monday if Lucy can’t pitch on Saturday.

“Everything is moving toward a launch on Saturday morning, and we are incredibly excited to be a part of this mission,” John Elbon, ULA’s chief operating officer, told Space.com. “I can’t tell you how much it means to us that we have had the opportunity to partner with NASA and launch spacecraft to explore all the planets in the solar system.”

Related: NASA’s Lucy Asteroid Mission To Explore Mysteries Of The Early Solar System

Lucy’s Journey to the Trojans

The Lucy mission, which cost about $ 981 million, is NASA’s next asteroid-observing spacecraft. Armed with a suite of cameras and scientific instruments, Lucy will try to answer one of the mysteries of the solar system: how did the giant planets form?

The current leading theory is that Jupiter and Saturn formed first, closer to the sun than they are today, and that the rest of the planets formed from leftover debris and eventually settled in the outer solar system. What is not clear is how the pieces of rock and ice went from small pieces colliding with each other to the massive planets that we see today like Uranus and Neptune.

This is where Lucy comes in: the spacecraft is poised to explore two different asteroid packages, each orbiting the same path as Jupiter on either side of the huge planet. These planetary bodies, known as Trojan asteroids, range in size from a few kilometers to hundreds of kilometers in diameter.

Scientists want to study the Trojans because they are believed to be cosmic fossils, like time capsules from the formation of the solar system, and could be made of the same materials as some of the outer planets. As such, the debris could tell us a lot about how the planets formed.

Lucy will have five different encounters with a total of 7 Trojan asteroids during her 12-year mission; It will also observe a main belt asteroid before it reaches the Trojans in 2025. The targets were chosen because of their various properties and particular orbits. As such, Lucy has a unique opportunity to visit more asteroids than any mission to date.

Lucy will be able to analyze the composition of each asteroid and other geophysical properties that could help scientists uncover the secrets of planetary evolution.

“One task is to map the craters on the surface of each asteroid,” said Cathy Olkin, Lucy’s associate principal investigator at the Southwest Research Institute during a pre-launch science briefing on Thursday (October 14). “We will look for craters smaller than a football field, about 70 yards wide. [64 m], for craters up to four miles [6 kilometers], And everything else “.

Olkin said that the size and number of craters on an asteroid’s surface can tell us a lot about its age, which, in turn, can reveal clues about an asteroid’s origin and evolution.

Walk to space

Lucy will travel in orbit on a ULA Atlas V rocket, which will fly in its simplest configuration: the 401. This most basic Atlas V consists of a 4-meter payload fairing, a single-engine Centaur upper stage, and no thrusters. solid rockets. The flight will mark Atlas V’s mission 146 to date and NASA’s 89.

It will also mark the 100th launch from ULA’s launch facility here at the Cape. SLC-41 has hosted a variety of missions performed by different Atlas V variants, and so far all have been highly successful. Lucy builds on the legacy of the many missions that have preceded her, including missions like the OSIRIS-REx asteroid rover, the InSight Mars lander, and even the New Horizons spacecraft that flew over Pluto.

Lucy’s launch also marks a notch in the final countdown for the Atlas V rocket, which ULA is withdrawing in favor of the still-in-development Vulcan rocket. There are 29 Atlas V rockets left in the ULA launcher stable, and all of them have been assigned to missions.

Vulcan Centaur will be the workhorse of the future for ULA and will launch in early 2022.

Follow Amy Thompson on Twitter @astrogingersnap. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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