NASA’s Lucy spacecraft, launched in 2021, is headed to Jupiter’s orbit to study the Trojan asteroids there. It won’t get there until 2027, but the spacecraft will have the opportunity to do some additional science before then, as it will soon flyby another asteroid called Dinkinesh. Less than half a mile wide, this small asteroid is located in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, and will be Lucy’s first asteroid flyby.
Lucy is scheduled to fly on Nov. 1, which was added to the mission as a bonus goal earlier this year. Team members realized that Lucy would be traveling close enough to the asteroid to perform some additional maneuvers and perform a flyby, giving them a chance to check out some of the spacecraft’s asteroid-tracking instruments.
This is also the first time that an asteroid has been seen at such close range. “This is the first time Lucy will look up close at an object that, until now, has been only an unresolved speck with the best telescopes,” said Hal Levison of the Southwest Research Institute, Lucy’s principal investigator. statement. “Dinkinesh is about to appear before humanity for the first time.”
The flyby will be used to test the spacecraft’s systems for detecting an asteroid and locking its instruments into place as it passes. This is important because when Lucy finally reaches its target in Trojan, it will fly by 10 asteroids rather than going into orbit around any one of them. With the tracking system in place, spacecraft should be able to point their cameras more precisely and collect more accurate data.
“We’ll know what the spacecraft needs to do at all times, but Lucy is so far away that radio signals take about 30 minutes to travel between the spacecraft and Earth, so we won’t be able to command an asteroid encounter in an interactive way.” Can,” said. Mark Effertz, Lucy chief engineer at Lockheed Martin Space. “Instead, we pre-program all science observations. After science observations and flyby are complete, Lucy will re-orient its high-gain antenna toward Earth, and then it will take about 30 minutes to bring its first signal to Earth.