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Lucy gears up for a busy year on route to the Jupiter Trojans
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Lucy gears up for a busy year on route to the Jupiter Trojans
by Clarence Oxford
Los Angeles CA (SPX) Jan 26, 2024

After its inaugural asteroid encounter last year, NASA's Lucy spacecraft is gearing up for pivotal events in 2024, marking significant progress in its journey to explore the enigmatic Jupiter Trojan asteroids. This ambitious mission, which seeks to unravel mysteries of the solar system's formation, is poised to enter a critical phase involving intricate deep space maneuvers and an Earth gravity assist.

Lucy's current trajectory, skirting the inner edge of the main asteroid belt, will soon transition to a path leading beyond Jupiter's orbit. This shift is set to be achieved through a two-step process: executing a series of deep space maneuvers, followed by an Earth gravity assist.

The spacecraft's team is preparing for the first of these maneuvers in late January. On January 31, Lucy will engage its main engines for the first time in space. This initial burn, though brief, serves as a critical test for the spacecraft's performance. Following this, a more substantial maneuver is planned for February 3. Together, these maneuvers aim to alter Lucy's velocity by approximately 2,000 mph (around 900 meters per second), consuming about half of the spacecraft's onboard fuel.

To put this into perspective, previous adjustments to Lucy's velocity were relatively minor, under 10 mph (a few meters per second), achieved using the spacecraft's smaller thrusters. The upcoming maneuvers, therefore, represent a significant escalation in terms of scale and complexity.

The culmination of these maneuvers will set the stage for Lucy's second major milestone in 2024: the second Earth gravity assist scheduled for December. During this close flyby, within just 230 miles (370 kilometers) of Earth, Lucy will be catapulted through the main asteroid belt. This trajectory will lead to an encounter with asteroid Donaldjohanson in April 2025 and eventually into the leading Jupiter Trojan swarm, known as the L4 or "Greek" cluster.

Lucy's first intimate encounter with a Trojan asteroid is slated for August 2027, when it approaches Eurybates and its satellite Queta. These observations are expected to yield unprecedented insights into the Trojans, believed to be relics of the early solar system.

Related Links
Lucy at SWRI
Asteroid and Comet Mission News, Science and Technology

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