NASA’s Lucy Mission Adds 10th Asteroid to Its Itinerary
NASA’s mission to explore Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids has been expanded to include an additional asteroid, bringing the total number of asteroids to be visited to 10.
The Lucy mission team has officially added main-belt asteroid 1999 VD57 to their list of targets, which will allow the spacecraft to test its innovative target tracking system and provide an opportunity to explore another small world before reaching their primary science targets in the outer solar system.
Asteroid 1999 VD57, which is an S-type or stony asteroid with the provisional name Dinkinesh, stood out to the Lucy team due to its close proximity to the spacecraft’s original trajectory.
Lucy was launched in October 2021 and is on a 12-year-long mission to visit two separate groups of Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids, which orbit the sun ahead of and behind the giant gas planet. The spacecraft will reach these groups in 2027 and 2033, respectively.
The asteroid was not originally identified as a target due to its small size, but its presence now offers the mission a useful opportunity to conduct an extra dress rehearsal for its tour of the Trojan asteroids.
Lucy’s trajectory will be adjusted to allow for a much closer approach to asteroid 1999 VD57, coming within approximately 280 miles (450 km) on November 1st.
The flyby of asteroid 1999 VD57 will give the Lucy mission team an early opportunity to test the spacecraft’s twin Terminal Tracking Cameras (T2CAM), which will mainly be used to automatically lock onto and track asteroids during flybys and ensure that Lucy’s other instruments are pointed in the right direction.
In the past, most flyby missions have dealt with the uncertainty of asteroid location by taking many images of the region where the asteroid might be, which is inefficient and results in many images of blank space.
Lucy will be the first flyby mission to use this innovative and complex system to automatically track the asteroid during the encounter, allowing the team to take many more images of the target.
Lucy has already imaged the Moon during its first of three flybys of Earth that will enable its journey to Jupiter’s Trojans. The mission team has also recently announced that they have suspended efforts to fully deploy one of the spacecraft’s solar arrays, leaving it at 98% unfurled, but they are confident that this will not impact the mission.
The mission’s first encounter with a space rock was previously scheduled to be its 2025 flyby of the main belt asteroid 52246 Donaldjohanson, named after the paleontologist who discovered the fossil Lucy, which inspired the name of the NASA mission.
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