Asteroid enthusiasts, NASA is launching a series spacecraft to explore and smash some of the most attractive space rocks in the solar system.
The robot trailblazer Lucy will be the first to go, taking a 12-year cruise to asteroids near Jupiter. These are unexplored time capsules that date back to the dawn of our solar system. Yes, Lucy will have diamonds in the sky, thanks to one of its science instruments. Also, lyrics from other Beatles songs will be available.
NASA targets Saturday morning for liftoff.
A month later, Dart, an impactor spacecraft, will chase a double-asteroid close to home. Dart will ramming the moonlet of the main asteroid to alter its orbit. This test could save Earth from an approaching rock.
A spacecraft will launch next summer to a rare metal planet — a nickel and iron asteroid, which might contain the exposed core of an once-upon a time planet. Two smaller companion craft, about the size of suitcases, will be released to another set double asteroids.
In 2023, NASA’s first samples from an asteroid will be collected by Osiris-Rex, the excavating robot that NASA built last year. A space capsule will then parachute into Utah desert. These samples come from Bennu, which is a rock composed of boulders and rubble that could pose a threat to Earth in a few centuries.
“Every one of those asteroids that we’re visiting tells us our story…the story of us, and the story about the solar system,” stated Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s chief science mission officer.
Nothing is better than this for understanding how the solar system formed some 4.6 billion years ago. Lucy’s principal scientist, Hal Levison, of Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado, stated that it’s impossible to find anything else. They are the fossils of planet formation.
China and Russia have joined forces to launch an asteroid mission in the latter part of this decade. In the future, the United Arab Emirates will also be planning an asteroid stop.
This flurry is due to technological and design advances, as well the growing interest in asteroids. Zurbuchen stated that all it takes to see the moon and the impactcraters made by meteorites and asteroids to understand the danger.
The dramatic exercise in planet defense promises the asteroid-smacking Dart spacecraft, which will launch Nov. 24, The high-speed collision will take place next fall at 7 million miles (11,000,000 kilometers) distance, and within full view of ground telescopes.
The Lucy mission, which costs $981 million more and is the first to Jupiter’s Trojan entourage, targets eight unexplored asteroids.