Spacecraft Lucy will rendezvous with a main belt asteroid this fall

(ORDO NEWS) — NASA‘s Lucy spacecraft will photograph a small main belt asteroid on November 1, 2023 to test an innovative asteroid tracking navigation system.

Lucy is scheduled to visit nine asteroids during its 12-year mission to explore Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids. In 2025, Lucy will fly past the asteroid Donald Johanson.

And it was originally expected that Lucy would not be able to see any asteroids up close until then.

However, the mission team, led by SwRI, identified a small asteroid in the main belt as a potential new target for the spacecraft.

“There are millions of asteroids in the main belt,” said Dr. Raphael Marshall, who identified asteroid 1999 VD57 as an object of particular interest to Lucy.

“I chose 500,000 asteroids with well-defined orbits to see if Lucy could fly close enough to get a good view of any of them, even from a distance.

This asteroid really stood out. Without any changes, Lucy’s flight path would have brought the craft to a distance of 64,000 kilometers from the asteroid, which is at least three times closer than the next closest asteroid.”

With a small maneuver, the spacecraft will be able to view this asteroid up close. On January 24, 2023, the team officially added an asteroid flyby to the Lucy tour as an engineering test of the spacecraft’s new system.

During the approach of the spacecraft to the target, it is rather difficult to determine exactly how far the spacecraft is from the asteroid, and in which direction to point the cameras.

Lucy will be the first flyby mission to use an innovative sophisticated system to automatically track an asteroid. It will allow the spacecraft to take many more pictures of the target.

This asteroid has not previously been identified as a target because it is extremely small. In fact, 1999 VD57 will be the smallest main belt asteroid ever visited by a spacecraft. The size of the asteroid is estimated at only 700 meters.

The Lucy team will conduct a series of maneuvers starting in early May 2023 to put the spacecraft on a trajectory that will pass approximately 450 km from this small asteroid.


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