NASA’s Lucy spacecraft prepares to fly past Earth

(ORDO NEWS) — On October 16, at 2:04 pm BST, NASA’s Lucy spacecraft, the first mission to Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids, will enter Earth’s atmosphere, passing just 350 kilometers above the surface.

By flying past Earth on the first anniversary of its launch, Lucy will receive some of the orbital energy it needs to travel to this previously unvisited population of asteroids.

Lucy is currently on her twelve year journey. This gravity assist will put Lucy on a new trajectory into a two-year orbit, after which she will return to Earth for a second gravity assist, which will give Lucy the energy needed to cross the main asteroid belt, where she will observe the Donaldjohanson asteroid, and then depart. into a swarm of Trojan asteroids.

There, Lucy will fly past six Trojan asteroids: Eurybates and its moon Keta, Polymelus and its unnamed moon, Leucus and Orus. Lucy will then return to Earth for the third time in 2030, after which she will travel to the Patroclus-Menetius asteroid pair.

Lucy will approach the Earth from the direction of the Sun, so observers on Earth will not be able to see the ship a few days before the event, but Lucy will be able to take pictures of the Earth and the Moon. Scientists will use these images to calibrate instruments.

Lucy will fly very close to Earth, even lower than the International Space Station. The ship will pass through an area full of satellites and debris. To keep Lucy safe, NASA developed procedures to anticipate any potential hazard and, if necessary, perform a small maneuver to avoid a collision.

Lucy will quickly move away from Earth, fly past the Moon, and take a few more calibration shots before continuing into interplanetary space.

“I’m especially excited about the last few pictures of the moon that the spacecraft will take,” said John Spencer, SwRI project scientist.

“Counting craters to understand the history of Trojan asteroid impacts is key to the research that Lucy will undertake, and this will be the first opportunity to calibrate Lucy’s ability to detect craters by comparing its observations with previous observations of the Moon by other space missions.”


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