The first NASA mission to the Trojan asteroids is called Lucy. The spacecraft is closer to launch after the Lucy team integrated its second scientific instrument called L’TES, or Lucy Thermal Emission Spectrometer. When complete, the spacecraft will have three scientific instruments, and Lucy project manager Donya Douglas-Bradshaw says having two of the three instruments integrated is an exciting milestone.
The Trojan asteroids are leftover building blocks of the solar system’s outer planets orbiting the sun at the distance of Jupiter. The mission name, Lucy, comes from the fossilized human ancestor known as Lucy by her discoverers. The skeleton of that ancient ancestor gave a unique insight into the evolution of humans.
NASA says the Lucy mission will revolutionize the knowledge of planetary origins and the solar system’s birth more than 4 billion years ago. L’TES was developed by engineers from Arizona State University and is essentially a remote thermal monitor. It will measure the far-infrared energy emitted by the Trojan asteroids as Lucy flies by.
NASA says the instrument arrived at Lockheed Martin Space on December 13 and was integrated into the spacecraft on December 16. Measuring the temperature of Trojan asteroids will provide researchers with information on the material properties of the surfaces of the asteroids. Lucy won’t be touching down on the surface of any of the asteroids it’s studying.
L’TES will allow the team to infer if the surface material is loose, like sand, or consolidated and hard like rock. Lucy is on schedule for launch in October 2021. The last of Lucy’s three instruments is called L’Ralph and is the color imaging camera and infrared spectrometer. It’s expected to be delivered in early 2021 for integration. L’LORRI is the highest resolution camera on the spacecraft and was installed in early November.