NASA announces two missions for study of asteroids

NASA announces two missions for study of asteroids

Lucy, a robotic spacecraft, is scheduled to launch in October 2021 and will visit a target-rich environment of Jupiter's mysterious Trojan asteroids. "We think that by studying them, we're going to have the same impact on the field of planetary science, as the fossil Lucy had on our understanding of the history of the human race".

The Psyche mission will visit one of the strangest objects in the solar system, a giant metal asteroid believed to be the core of a planetary body.

Scientists say the asteroid, named 16 Psyche, may have lost its outer core through a series of collisions.

Scientists say the almost 130-mile-wide metallic asteroid "the 16 Psyche" is the core of an ancient planet that might be equivalent to Mars in size. The asteroids are of interest to researchers because, while they are trapped in the pull of Jupiter's gravity, they do not orbit the planet.

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 asteroid, 210 kilometres in diameter, is the only known body in the solar system with a metallic core accessible for study.

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"This is an opportunity to explore a new type of world - not one of rock or ice, but of metal", said Psyche Principal Investigator Lindy Elkins-Tanton of Arizona State University in Tempe. The space agency is also working on the Asteroid Redirect Mission, an ambitious plan to redirect an asteroid into a stable orbit around the moon, where astronauts will visit it and come back with samples in the 2020s. Several members of the Lucy mission team also are veterans of the New Horizons mission. Out of five finalists, these two missions were selected. Last summer, the government of Luxembourg announced it would create a fund of more than $227 million for investment in asteroid-mining companies.

Same day NASA also announced that Neocam the telescope will explore asteroids that are expected to strike the earth. "SSL is honored to partner with ASU and JPL to enable this ground breaking research, which will help us better understand the early days of the solar system and formation of terrestrial planets".

Discovery Program class missions like these are relatively low-priced, their development capped at about $450 million.

"L$3 ucy will observe primitive remnants from farther out in the solar system, while Psyche will directly observe the interior of a planetary body", said Jim Green, NASA's planetary science director, according to The Christian Science Monitor. The OSIRIS-REx mission, which launched on September 8, 2016, is speeding toward a 2018 rendezvous with the asteroid Bennu, and will deliver a sample back to Earth in 2023.