Atlas 5 rocket rolls out to originate pad with NASA’s Lucy asteroid probe

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Atlas 5 rocket rolls out to originate pad with NASA’s Lucy asteroid probe
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Credit: Alex Polimeni/Spaceflight Now

An Atlas 5 rocket emerged from its hangar and rolled to a originate pad at Cape Canaveral Thursday with NASA’s Lucy asteroid probe. The originate of the Lucy spacecraft Saturday will mark the final planetary science mission within the storied historical previous of the Atlas program.

The 188-foot-gargantuan (57.3-meter) Atlas 5 rocket rolled out of United Delivery Alliance’s Vertical Integration Facility round 10: 30 a.m. EDT (1430 GMT) Thursday. The launcher rode on high of a cellular platform along rail tracks to pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Residing Pressure Site.

In lower than an hour, the rocket had performed the 1,800-foot (550-meter) rollout and arrived at the originate mount on pad 41.

Computerized couplers engaged to join the Atlas 5 to ground techniques, setting the stage for final inspections, closeouts and other actions to prepared the rocket for an in a single day countdown set up to originate slack Friday evening.

The countdown will be timed for blastoff of the Atlas 5 rocket at 5: 34 a.m. EDT (0934 GMT) Saturday, the gap of a 75-minute originate window for the Lucy mission.

Essentially the latest forecast issued this morning signifies an 90% chance of favorable weather prerequisites for originate Saturday. The important weather exertion is with cumulus clouds.

Forecasters predict west surface winds of round 6 knots at originate time, with a few clouds at 2,000 feet. The temperature at originate time wishes to be round 74 to 76 levels Fahrenheit.

If the originate is pushed abet to Sunday morning, there would possibly be a 50% chance of acceptable weather.

This illustration from United Delivery Alliance exhibits the Atlas 5 rocket that can originate the Lucy mission, and an artist’s theory of the Lucy spacecraft visiting the Trojan asteroids. Credit: United Delivery Alliance

The $981 million mission is the important to are attempting an unexplored community of asteroids identified because the Trojans. Scientists declare these objects, situated in Jupiter’s orbit round the solar, are the primordial leftover buildings blocks from the early historical previous of the 4.5-billion one year passe solar system.

The robotic spacecraft will flee by seven Trojan asteroids at some level of its 12-one year important mission. On the potential out to Jupiter’s orbit, Lucy will in temporary come across one other object within the important asteroid belt.

The eight asteroids targeted by Lucy will be a file for a single spacecraft.

Lucy’s devices will seize pictures and measure the composition of every asteroid.

“The Trojan asteroids lead or notice Jupiter in its orbit by about 60 levels,” mentioned Hal Levison, main investigator for the Lucy mission from the Southwest Examine Institute. “They’re held there by the gravitational originate of Jupiter and the solar, so while you procure an object early within the solar system historical previous, it’s been stable eternally.

“So this stuff in level of reality are fossils of what planets formed from,” Levison mentioned.

The Trojans will not be a uniform inhabitants. Scientists hang detected bigger than 7,000 Trojan asteroids in two swarms, and there are lots of more that dwell undiscovered. Some appear more reddish in colour, others are more gray.

“Must you wish to fancy what this inhabitants is telling us about how the planets formed, it is obligatory to fancy that diversity, and that’s what Lucy is intended to end,” Levison mentioned.

The rocket set up for originate with the Lucy mission is one in every of 28 Atlas 5s final in ULA’s stock, and the 89th Atlas 5 mission on memoir of the rocket’s debut in 2002. ULA is a 50-50 joint endeavor between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, and is within the final levels of growing a recent-generation rocket named the Vulcan Centaur.

The Vulcan will change ULA’s Atlas and Delta rocket households. There are magnificent three Delta launchers left to flee, all Delta 4-Heavy rockets with high secret payloads for the Nationwide Reconnaissance Site of business.

Many of the 28 Atlas 5 launches left on ULA’s manifest will lift U.S. protection power payloads, deploy internet satellites for Amazon’s Kuiper community, and originate astronaut missions on Boeing’s Starliner crew pill. There are three NASA-led missions left on the Atlas 5 originate schedule, along with two weather satellites and the Lucy asteroid probe.

That makes Lucy the final solar system exploration mission to originate on an Atlas rocket.

Credit: United Delivery Alliance

Atlas 5s hang launched loads of popular interplanetary spacecraft, along with NASA’s Recent Horizons probe, which took off on an Atlas 5 rocket in 2006 and captured the important up-close views of Pluto at some level of a historic flyby in July 2015.

NASA’s Curiosity and Perseverance rovers within the intervening time riding across Mars moreover launched on Atlas 5 rockets in 2011 and 2020. Atlas 5 flights moreover launched NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the MAVEN orbiter, and the InSight lander to the Red Planet.

Diverse solar system missions launched on Atlas 5 rockets encompass NASA’s Juno orbiter, which left Earth for Jupiter in 2011, and the OSIRIS-REx asteroid pattern return spacecraft in 2016. The Solar Orbiter mission, a joint project between the European Residing Company and NASA, moreover launched on an Atlas 5 rocket in 2020.

Going abet to the important gentle of the Residing Age, the Atlas rocket family launched many more planetary science missions, along with the Mariner 4 probe. Mariner 4 launched on an Atlas-Agena rocket in 1964, and made the important successful flyby of Mars the next one year, returning the important detailed views of the Red Planet.

Mariner 9 launched on an Atlas-Centaur rocket in 1971 and grew to grow to be the important spacecraft to orbit one other planet when it arrived at Mars.

Credit: United Delivery Alliance
Credit: NASA/Invoice Ingalls
Credit: Alex Polimeni/Spaceflight Now
Credit: United Delivery Alliance
Credit: Alex Polimeni/Spaceflight Now
Credit: NASA/Invoice Ingalls
Credit: Alex Polimeni/Spaceflight Now
Credit: United Delivery Alliance

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Apply Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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