Lockheed Martin NASA spacecraft Lucy heads to Jupiter asteroids with assist from Excel

An animated trajectory map exhibits the trail of the Lucy mission, with the spacecraft (blue) launching from the Earth (inexperienced) out to the asteroids round Jupiter (orange).


NASA’s newest exploration spacecraft launched over the weekend, starting a 12-year journey to go to Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids.

A instrument acquainted to Wall Road was used to craft the mission’s intricate path: Microsoft Excel.

The Lucy spacecraft, which Lockheed Martin constructed and United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket launched for NASA on Saturday, is anticipated to journey 4 billion miles by way of area to fly by and examine eight asteroids.

Years earlier than Lucy took off, Lockheed Martin mission architect Brian Sutter used Excel to chart the mission’s path and select which of the about 5,000 Trojan asteroids the spacecraft ought to go to.

“A part of the science of this mission was to strive to have a look at as many of those Trojans as we are able to in a single mission,” Sutter advised CNBC.

Whereas Lockheed Martin has a “excessive constancy” instrument to run particular person trajectories, Sutter stated that may have taken “perpetually.” He as an alternative turned to an Excel macro, which is “completely fitted to sorting by way of massive portions of information.”

“I had already discovered a trajectory that related two of the asteroids to a trajectory that additionally related to Earth,” Sutter stated.

Orbit propagation – or modeling the longer term location of objects in area – “is what I do,” Sutter defined. Whereas his macro consists of “completely different equations than you’d usually put into Excel,” he emphasised that “on the finish of the day it is all math.”

NASA’s Lucy spacecraft is ready for launch, with its photo voltaic arrays folded.

Glenn Benson / NASA

Sutter took a broad record of 750,000 asteroids and entered them into Excel to “see in the event that they ever unintentionally form of come shut to one another.”

“I feel this factor took about 12 hours to cycle by way of all 750,000 of them,” Sutter stated. After he ran the macro, he had “a bit record of 10 to twenty asteroids that the spacecraft was going to be flying near.”

His use of Excel to assist chart Lucy’s trajectory turned well-known inside Lockheed Martin. He recalled {that a} colleague as soon as described to others that Sutter “constructed essentially the most ridiculously sophisticated Excel spreadsheet I’ve ever seen in my life.”

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with the Lucy spacecraft aboard launches from Area Launch Advanced 41, on Oct. 16, 2021.

Invoice Ingalls / NASA

The Lucy mission, which has a complete price of $981 million, is anticipated to go to its first asteroid in 2024. Additional flybys are set to happen till 2033.

Whereas the launch was profitable and the spacecraft is secure, NASA stated on Sunday that one of many spacecraft’s two photo voltaic arrays “might not be absolutely latched.”

“Lucy can proceed to function with no risk to its well being and security,” NASA stated. “The crew is analyzing spacecraft knowledge to know the state of affairs and decide subsequent steps to attain full deployment of the photo voltaic array.”

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