NASA has just approved two missions to explore asteroids, with the aim of learning more about the early solar system.
The two missions, dubbed Lucy and Psyche, are tentatively scheduled to launch in 2021 and 2023 respectively, the space agency announced on its website.
“Lucy will visit a target-rich environment of Jupiter’s mysterious Trojan asteroids, while Psyche will study a unique metal asteroid that’s never been visited before,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, was quoted as saying.
Lucy is slated to launch in October 2021, arriving at a “main belt” asteroid in 2025. From 2027 until 2033, it will explore six so-called “Trojan” asteroids trapped in orbit near Jupiter. These asteroids are thought to be remnants from the early solar system. In fact, the Lucy probe is named after the groundbreaking human fossil.
The mission will also be using newer versions of the instruments used by the trailblazing New Horizons probe, which visited Pluto.
Lucy and Psyche will see NASA probes visit new types of asteroids in the 2020s
The second mission, Psyche, will see the probe visit a mammoth metal asteroid called 16 Psyche. The asteroid, which measures 210 kilometres in diameter, is thought to be similar in composition to the Earth’s core (iron and nickel).
“Scientists wonder whether Psyche could be an exposed core of an early planet that could have been as large as Mars, but which lost its rocky outer layers due to a number of violent collisions billions of years ago,” NASA elaborated on the celestial body.
The Psyche mission is set for an October 2023 launch, flying past Mars in 2025 before arriving at the asteroid in 2030.