NASA’s Lucy spacecraft is now in Florida – its final Earth-bound destination – before embarking on a mission to study the Jupiter Trojan asteroids. A United States Air Force C-17 cargo plane from Charleston Air Force Base in South Carolina, flew to Buckley Space Force Base in Aurora, Colorado, to pick up the spacecraft. The aircraft, with Lucy safely inside, then touched down at the Launch and Landing Facility runway at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on July 30, 2021. From there, the spacecraft was transported to an Astrotech Space Operations processing facility in nearby Titusville to undergo final preparations before liftoff.
Named after a fossilized human ancestor whose skeleton provided discoverers insight into humanity’s evolution, the Lucy mission will do much of the same, providing scientists and researchers a look into the origins of our solar system.
The Trojan asteroids orbit the Sun in two groups: one group lies ahead of Jupiter while the other trails behind. Stabilized by both the Sun and Jupiter, those swarms of asteroids are thought to be remnants of the initial material that formed the planets within the solar system. Throughout the duration of the mission, Lucy will visit eight different asteroids over the span of 12 years, unlocking new information about the primitive bodies that created our early solar system.
Lucy is scheduled to launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on Oct. 16. The launch is being managed by the NASA’s Launch Services Program based at Kennedy, America’s multi-user spaceport. The mission will be the first to study the Trojans.
Two vital pieces of equipment for the Mars 2020 rover were flown from Lockheed Martin Space in Denver, Colorado and recently delivered to the agency’s Kennedy Space Center.
The rover’s heat shield and back shell arrived at Kennedy’s Launch and Landing Facility (formerly the Shuttle Landing Facility) on Dec. 11, 2019, and were then transported to the Florida spaceport’s Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility. Built by Lockheed Martin Space, these two essential parts of the spacecraft will protect the rover during its passage to Mars. The Mars 2020 rover is being manufactured at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California and, once complete, will be delivered to Kennedy in mid-February, 2020.
As the spacecraft descends through the Martian atmosphere, the heat shield will encounter extreme amounts of friction, creating temperatures as high as about 3,200 degrees Fahrenheit. The back shell contains several elements critical to landing the rover, including the parachute and antennas for communication. Some of these key components will be integrated in the months to come by the NASA-JPL team at Kennedy.
About the size of a car with dimensions similar to the Curiosity rover, the Mars 2020 rover will carry seven different scientific instruments. Developed under NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, the mission aims to search for signs of past microbial life, characterize the planet’s climate and geology, collect samples for future return to Earth and pave the way for human exploration of Mars.
During a media event held in the Florida spaceport’s Space Station Processing Facility high bay, former NASA astronaut and current Senior Vice President of Strategy for Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) Space Systems Steve Lindsey revealed the name of the cargo module that will attach to the back of the company’s Dream Chaser spacecraft: Shooting Star.
“It’s an exciting day for us,” said Lindsey, a veteran of five NASA shuttle missions.
Shooting Star is a 15-foot-long cargo module that will attach to the back of the 30-foot-long Dream Chaser. It will be used to deliver more than 12,000 pounds of supplies and other cargo for NASA to the International Space Station as part of the Commercial Resupply Services-2 (CRS-2) contract. Its first flight is scheduled to launch from Kennedy in fall 2021.
“Sierra Nevada Corporation is excited to be expanding our footprint here at Kennedy Space Center,” said Kimberly Schwandt, senior communications manager for SNC Space Systems.
Dream Chaser will fly back to Earth and land on the runway at Kennedy’s Launch and Landing Facility, formerly the Shuttle Landing Facility. Shooting Star will have a different fate. It will carry unwanted cargo from the space station, disposing of it while burning up upon re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere. The process of “burning up” is where the Shooting Star name came from, Lindsey explained.
“The cargo module is really interesting because it’s kind of the unsung hero of the whole Dream Chaser cargo system design,” Lindsey said, while standing in front of a Shooting Star testing mockup. “It has a very unique shape — notice how it angles in as you go higher. It’s shaped to handle external and internal payloads.”
Payload capability includes pressurized and unpressurized cargo. Though it was designed specifically for cargo resupply services to the space station, Shooting Star can have many other applications, Lindsey said, including carrying crew, operating as a free-flying satellite and going from low-Earth to lunar orbit.
“It’s a pretty versatile system,” Lindsey said, “and the more we worked on it, the more we realized there are multiple applications for it.”
The Shooting Star mockup was recently delivered to Kennedy from SNC’s facility in Colorado. It will remain at the Florida spaceport, Lindsey said, for testing, processing and training of flight controllers.
NASA selected Dream Chaser for the CRS-2 contract, which involves launching six cargo missions to the space station by 2024.