With the launch of a flagship mission to Mars, NASA’s Planetary Science division is focusing on two asteroid missions that are expected to launch next year.
In an Aug. 17 meeting of NASA’s Planetary Science Advisory Committee, Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s planetary science division, noted that once the pandemic began earlier this year. The priority absolute division was to ensure the successful launch of the March 2020 mission. . NASA has elevated Mars 2020 to one of the agency’s top priorities, alongside the Demo-2 commercial crew mission,. Due to the risk of a two-year delay and $ 500 million in costs. Additional if the mission missed its launch window.
Mars 2020 was successfully launched on July 30 and is on its way to Mars, which is scheduled to land there next February. “We have encountered this launch window and achieved it,” she said.
The division is now shifting its priorities to two missions, the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) and Lucy, both slated to launch in 2021. “These are a high priority as we are looking at the different COVID impacts on our portfolio.” she says. “We work very hard to keep these teams as safe as possible, but when we have limited resources and limited facilities. We try to prioritize these missions.”
Lucy is one of two Discovery-class missions selected by NASA in 2017. Its launch is scheduled for October 2021 on a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5. The mission has a narrow launch window in order to follow a complex trajectory that will allow it to fly.. By several Trojan asteroids in the same orbit around the sun as Jupiter during its 12-year mission.
Glaze said Mission Lucy is approaching a milestone known as Key Decision Point D that will allow her to proceed with onboarding and final testing. This work continues with “the health and safety of teams above all else” while the pandemic persists.
DART, a planetary defense mission that will collide with a moon orbiting the near-Earth asteroid Didymos to test a technique to deflect its orbit, is expected to launch in late July 2021. DART is currently in its own operations final assembly and testing. “The mission is going really well,” she said. “The mission is on track for a July 2021 launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9, and we will work very hard to stick to it.”
However, DART had some challenges, another NASA official explained later at the same meeting. Lindley Johnson, head of the planetary defense coordination office, said delivery of the spacecraft’s bus to Aerojet Rocketdyne’s Applied Physics Lab,. Which installed its electric propulsion system, was delayed by approximately a month and a half because of the pandemic. “So that delayed DART integration and the testing schedule by about six weeks,” he said.
The mission team is trying to recoup some of that time, he said, and could increase the number of shifts to do so. However, delivery of the spacecraft’s solar panels later this year is expected to be around a month late.
Johnson said some of the spacecraft’s technologies, such as the NEXT-C electric propulsion system and the Roll-Out Solar Array (ROSA), played a role in the delays. “The amount of testing to be done before delivering these components to a flight project has not been fully understood and performed,” he said.
Neither NEXT-C nor ROSA are completely new systems. NEXT-C is an upgraded version of the electric propulsion used in NASA’s Dawn and Deep Space 1 missions. While ROSA, a solar panel that unrolls in its flight configuration after launch, has been tested on the Space Station international. But, he said, “none of these components started with a really sufficient plan and schedule to meet the requirements of the flight project.”
“This will be an ongoing challenge for DART as they reassemble the spacecraft and perform the tests over the next nine months or so”. Johnson said. “This is an area where we can learn from the project with these new technological systems.”