Oct 13, 2022

NASA’s Lucy spacecraft prepares to swing by Earth

Posted by in category: space

On Oct. 16, at 7:04 a.m. EDT, NASA’s Lucy spacecraft, the first mission to the Jupiter Trojan asteroids, will skim the Earth’s atmosphere, passing a mere 220 miles (350 kilometers) above the surface. By swinging past Earth on the first anniversary of its launch, Lucy will gain some of the orbital energy it needs to travel to this never-before-visited population of asteroids.

The Trojan asteroids are trapped in orbits around the sun at the same distance as Jupiter, either far ahead of or behind the giant planet. Lucy is currently one year into a twelve-year voyage. This gravity assist will place Lucy on a new trajectory for a two-year orbit, at which time it will return to Earth for a second gravity assist. This second assist will give Lucy the energy it needs to cross the main asteroid belt, where it will observe asteroid Donaldjohanson, and then travel into the leading Trojan asteroid swarm. There, Lucy will fly past six Trojan asteroids: Eurybates and its satellite Queta, Polymele and its yet unnamed satellite, Leucus, and Orus. Lucy will then return to Earth for a third gravity assist in 2030 to re-target the spacecraft for a rendezvous with the Patroclus-Menoetius binary asteroid pair in the trailing Trojan asteroid swarm.

For this first gravity assist, Lucy will appear to approach Earth from the direction of the sun. While this means that observers on Earth will not be able to see Lucy in the days before the event, Lucy will be able to take images of the nearly full Earth and moon. Mission scientists will use these images to calibrate the instruments.

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