By Ana Verayo, | January 05, 2017
An artist’s conception of the Lucy spacecraft flying by the Trojan Eurybates – one of the six diverse and scientifically important Trojans to be studied. (SwRI and SSL/Peter Rubin)
NASA has announced two new space missions. Each of them will involve sending a robotic spacecraft deep into the solar system, that will eventually land on and study new asteroids.
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These space missions were the two winners from five space exploration missions that were selected in September 2015 by NASA. The first asteroid mission is known as Lucy and will launch in 2021 and the second one, Psyche, will blast off in 2023.
These new missions are proposed under NASA's Discovery Program. Space missions under this program are relatively low in cost at US $450 million. Past missions include Dawn which is currently exploring dwarf planet Ceres, the recently completed MESSENGER that explored Mercury, and the Kepler Space Telescope.
Lucy will be launched in October 2021 to study six of the "Trojan" asteroids that follow Jupiter's orbit due to the gas giant's powerful gravitational forces. Studying these asteroids can then reveal important clues about the formation of the solar system. Asteroids are also considered as primordial remnants from the birth of the solar system.
According to Lucy's principal investigator, Harold F. Levison of the Southwest Research Institute in Colorado, this is a truly unique opportunity since these Trojans are considered as evidence of primordial material that formed outer planets in the solar system. Lucy will arrive at the first Trojan asteroid in 2025.
Psyche will be launched two years after Lucy in 2023. The robotic spacecraft will be launched using gravitational forces of Earth and Mars as a "slingshot" to arrive on the asteroid known as 16 Psyche in 2030.
The asteroid 16 Psyche is a large asteroid located in the major asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, measuring 130 miles across. It is also considered one of the top ten largest space rocks in the belt.
Mission scientists have chosen this asteroid due to its strange composition. Asteroids are usually mostly made of ice and rock, but 16 Psyche is mostly metal, made primarily from iron and nickel. Scientists believe that this can be a possible remnant from a lost planet since Earth's core is made of the same materials.
According to Psyche principal investigator, Lindy Elkins-Tanton of the Arizona State University, this is a great opportunity to explore a new type of planet made from not typical rocky material but of metal. Scientists also reveal that 16 Psyche is the only known object of its kind in the solar system, that is made from a metal core of a planet.
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