The final Atlas rocket assigned to launch a solar system exploration mission is set for liftoff before dawn Saturday. NASA’s Lucy asteroid mission is mounted on top of the rocket awaiting launch from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.
United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rocket is seen in these photos standing on Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral. The 188-foot-tall (57.3-meter) rocket is one of 28 Atlas 5s left in ULA’s inventory before retiring the Atlas line in favor of the new-generation Vulcan launch vehicle.
While Atlas 5s will continue launching for a few more years, the Lucy mission is the last solar system probe assigned to the Atlas program.
The rocket will fly in the “401” vehicle configuration with a 4.2-meter (13.8-foot) diameter payload fairing, no solid rocket boosters, and a single-engine Centaur upper stage. The Atlas 5-401 is the least powerful version of the Atlas 5 rocket family.
Liftoff is set for 5:34 a.m. EDT (0934 GMT) Saturday to send the Lucy spacecraft on a 12-year journey through the solar system. The mission will fly by eight unexplored asteroids, a record for a single spacecraft, including seven so-called Trojan asteroids leading and trailing Jupiter in its orbit around the sun.
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