25 Jan. () –
NASA’s Lucy Spacecraft Will Add Another Asteroid Encounter to his journey of 6,000 million kilometers and it will be this year.
On November 1, 2023Lucy will take a close look at a small main belt asteroid for an engineering test of the ship’s innovative asteroid tracking navigation system.
The Lucy mission is already breaking records by planning to visit nine asteroids during its 12-year tour of Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids, They orbit the Sun at the same distance as Jupiter.
Initially, Lucy was not expected to see any asteroids up close until 2025, when it will pass by the main belt asteroid (52246) Donaldjohanson. However, Lucy’s team identified an as-yet-unnamed small asteroid in the inner main belt, designated (152830) 1999 VD57, as a possible new and useful target for the Lucy spacecraft.
“There are millions of asteroids in the main asteroid belt,” explains Raphael Marschall, Lucy’s collaborator at the Nice Observatory in France, who identified asteroid 1999 VD57 as an object of special interest to Lucy. “I selected 500,000 asteroids with well-defined orbits to see if Lucy could travel close enough to get a good look at any of them, even from a distance. This asteroid really stood out. Lucy’s trajectory, as originally designed, will take her to minus 40,000 miles from the asteroid, at least three times closer than the next closest asteroid.”
Lucy’s team realized that by adding a little maneuver, the spacecraft could get an even closer look at this asteroid. So, on January 24, the team officially added it to Lucy’s track as an engineering test of the spacecraft’s pioneering terminal tracking system. This new system solves a long-standing problem with flyby missions: During a spacecraft’s approach to an asteroid, it’s quite difficult to determine exactly how far the spacecraft is from the asteroid, and exactly where to point the cameras.
“In the past, most flyby missions have accounted for this uncertainty by taking a lot of images of the region the asteroid might be in, which means low efficiency and a lot of white space imaging,” he said. it’s a statement Hal Levison, Lucy’s principal investigator at the Southwest Research Institute. “Lucy will be the first flyby mission to use this innovative and complex system to automatically track the asteroid during the encounter. This novel system will allow the team to take many more images of the target.”
As it turns out, 1999 VD57 offers an excellent opportunity to validate this never-before-flown procedure. The geometry of this encounter – especially the angle of approach of the spacecraft to the asteroid with respect to the Sun – is very similar to that of the mission’s planned encounters with Trojan asteroids. This allows the team to carry out a dress rehearsal under similar conditions well in advance of the spacecraft’s main science objectives.
This asteroid was not previously identified as a target because it is extremely small. In fact, 1999 VD57, estimated to be just 700 meters in size, will be the smallest main belt asteroid ever visited by spacecraft. Its size is much closer to that of the near-Earth asteroids visited by NASA’s recent OSIRIS-REx and DART missions than it is to previously visited main-belt asteroids.
Lucy’s team will carry out a series of maneuvers beginning in early May 2023 to position the spacecraft on a trajectory that will pass within 450 kilometers of this small asteroid.