NASA Selects Two New Missions to Explore the Early Solar System

Jan 09, 2017, 00:28
NASA Selects Two New Missions to Explore the Early Solar System

According to the scientists at NASA, it is hoped that mission Lucy will visit Jupiter's mysterious Trojan asteroids and Psyche will study a unique metal asteroid that has never been visited before and is three times farther away from the Sun than the Earth is. NASA's science mission directorate, Mr Thomas Zurbuchen said, "This s what space missions are all about- boldly visiting places which have never been explored before". Discovered way back in 1852, 16 Psyche is a unusual hunk of metal orbiting between Mars and Jupiter, and is one of the ten most massive objects in the asteroid belt. These asteroids are trapped inside Jupiter's gravity.

The object is a one-of-a-kind in the solar system because unlike most asteroids that have rocky and icy bodies, 16 Psyche is primarily composed of pure nickel-iron.

"You have objects that are hundreds of miles across and probably some that are the size of this", said Dr. Hal Levinson, the mission's principal investigator, based at Southwest Research Institute in Boulder. "Lucy, like the human fossil for which it is named, will revolutionize the understanding of our origins".

The APL instrument is the next-gen version of the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) now flying on the New Horizons spacecraft, which provided the first detailed, close-up views of Pluto and its moons in July 2015.

Last September, NASA had narrowed a pool of 27 planned missions to five, and over the past year, scientists dedicated to all of them had worked to refine their proposals.

Now the most massive known M-type (metallic) asteroid, the body is composed of 90 percent iron and nickel and 10 percent silicate rock, which is similar to the Earth's core.

The NASA Discovery Program goal is to deepen the knowledge of our solar system by launching modest cost-capped missions on a routine cadence.

The Psyche mission, which is set to launch in October 2023, will send a robotic spacecraft to look for clues about early planetary formation. The Lucy mission will launch in October 2021 and fly by its targets between 2025 and 2033.

"These are true missions of discovery that integrate into NASA's larger strategy of investigating how the solar system formed and evolved", said NASA's Planetary Science Director Jim Green. If confirmed, these observations will be the first to directly characterize the composition of a planetary core, providing insights into the inaccessible cores of the terrestrial planets, including Earth and Mars. "16 Psyche is the only known object of its kind in the solar system, and this is the only way humans will ever visit a core".

Discovery Program class missions like these are relatively low-priced, their development capped at about $450 million. The missions are designed and led by a principal investigator, who assembles a team of scientists and engineers, to address key science questions about the solar system.

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