The Lucy spacecraft is about to encounter a new asteroid target


Team Lucy, led by SwRI, announces a new asteroid target

As NASA’s Lucy spacecraft travels through the inner rim of the main asteroid belt in the fall of 2023, the spacecraft will fly by the minor, yet-unnamed, asteroid (152830) 1999 VD57. This graphic shows a top-down view of the solar system indicating the spacecraft’s trajectory shortly before the November 1 rendezvous. Credit: NASA/Goddard

NASA’s Lucy spacecraft will add another asteroid encounter on its 4 billion-mile journey. On November 1, 2023, the Lucy mission led by Southwest Research Institute will obtain a close-up view of a small asteroid in the main belt for an engineering test of the spacecraft’s innovative asteroid-tracking navigation system.


The Lucy mission was already on track to break records with its planned visit to nine asteroids during its 12-year mission to tour the Trojan asteroids of Jupiter, which orbit the Sun at the same distance as Jupiter. Originally, Lucy wasn’t expected to get a close-up view of any asteroids until 2025, when it will fly by the main belt asteroid (52246) DonaldJohansson. However, the SwRI-led Lucy team has identified a small, yet-to-be-named asteroid in the inner main belt as a new and potentially useful target for the Lucy spacecraft.

There are millions of asteroids out there main asteroid beltsaid Dr. Raphael Marchal, Lucy’s collaborator at the Nice Observatory in France, who identified asteroid (152830) 1999 VD57 as an object of particular interest to Lucy. “I selected 500,000 asteroids with well-defined orbits to see if Lucy would travel close enough to get a good look at any of them, even from a great distance. This asteroid really stood out. Without any modifications, Lucy’s trajectory would take 40,000 miles from the asteroid, at least At least three times closer than the next closest asteroid.

Lucy’s team realized that with a little maneuver, the spacecraft could get a closer look at this asteroid. On January 24, 2023, the team officially added the asteroid flyby to Lucy’s run-in as an engineering test for the spacecraft’s final tracking system. The new system solves a long-standing problem for flyby missions: As a spacecraft approaches a target, it’s very difficult to determine the spacecraft’s exact distance from the asteroid and exactly which way to point the cameras.

“In the past, most flyby missions accounted for this uncertainty by taking a lot of pictures of the area where the asteroid might be, which is inefficient and produces a lot of pictures of empty space,” says Lucy’s principal investigator, Dr. Hal Leveson. Division of Solar System Science and Exploration at SwRI in Boulder, Colorado. SwRI is headquartered in San Antonio. “Lucy will be her first flight Expedition To employ an innovative and complex system to automatically track an asteroid during an encounter. The new terminal tracking system will allow the spacecraft to take more pictures of the target.”

Asteroid 1999 VD57 provides an excellent opportunity to validate this unprecedented procedure. The geometry of this encounter—especially the angle at which the spacecraft approaches the asteroid relative to Earth and the Sun—is very similar to the planned Trojan asteroid encounters. This flyby allows the team to rehearse under similar conditions well in advance of the spacecraft’s main science goals, flybys of previously undiscovered Trojan asteroids.

This asteroid was not identified as a target earlier because it is too small. In fact, 1999 VD57 would be the smallest main belt asteroid ever visited by a spacecraft, estimated to be just 0.4 miles (700 meters) across. It is more similar in size to the near-Earth asteroids visited by recent space missions, including Osiris-Rex and Dart, than to the main belt asteroids visited previously.

Lucy’s team will carry out a series of maneuvers beginning in early May 2023 to place the Space ship On a track that goes through about 280 miles (450 km) of this little road asteroid.

the quote: Lucy spacecraft set to encounter new asteroid target (2023, January 25) Retrieved January 25, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-01-lucy-spacecraft-encounter-asteroid.html

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