Tempe-based KinetX Aerospace has been selected by NASA for navigation and mission design support of a new interplanetary space science mission named ‘Lucy’.

Lucy will be the first exploration to determine physical characteristics of the far-off, mysterious Jupiter Trojan bodies through a series of close-up flybys.

“As the only private company NASA has ever certified to do deep space navigation, we have a long heritage in supporting NASA missions,” said Kjell Stakkestad, president and CEO, KinetX Aerospace. “We’re thrilled to have been selected as part of the Lucy team, which has the potential to reveal the early history of the solar system. We applaud NASA for continuing to push the boundaries of space exploration while simultaneously contributing to our economy and body of knowledge on Earth.”

The Jupiter Trojans form two populations of small bodies that are trapped by Jupiter’s gravity and the Sun’s gravity in the vicinity of the Sun-Jupiter L4 and L5 Lagrange Points.  The Jupiter Trojans are believed to include ancient objects that formed throughout the early solar system, and studying them will tell much about planet formation and evolution.

On Wednesday, January 4, 2017, NASA announced that Lucy was one of two space science mission winners of the latest Discovery Program competition, which started with NASA’s Announcement of Opportunity in November 2014.  KinetX Aerospace has provided Deep Space Navigation and Mission Design expertise throughout the Lucy proposal effort while teamed up with Lucy’s Principal Investigator, Dr. Hal Levison, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

Other team institutions and their roles include NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center providing mission management and science instrumentation in cooperation with Southwest Research Institute, Lockheed Martin building and operating the spacecraft, Arizona State University providing science instrumentation, and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU/APL) building and providing the camera used for science and optical navigation (OpNav).

KinetX will continue to be responsible for Navigation and Mission Design support during the development and operational phases of the Lucy mission, which plans to launch in October 2021 and to complete flight operations in May 2033. During flight, KinetX will use radio metric tracking from NASA’s Deep Space Network to navigate the Lucy spacecraft through multiple Earth gravity-assist flybys, and then on to an encounter with one main belt asteroid and close flybys of six known Trojan objects.

During approach and flyby of the asteroid and Trojan bodies, KinetX will use a camera designed and built by JHU/APL for Optical Navigation that is the same design as the JHU/APL imager that KinetX used for OpNav during the successful New Horizons flyby of Pluto in July 2015.

In addition to the Lucy mission, KinetX also provides Deep Space Navigation and Mission Design services for other NASA missions, including the MESSENGER mission to Mercury, the New Horizons mission to fly by Pluto and then a Kuiper belt object in late 2018, and the OSIRIS-REx mission to collect a sample from the asteroid 101955 Bennu and return the sample to Earth in 2023.