Asteroid probe Lucy will make the first major maneuver

NASA’s Lucy probe will turn on its engines at full power for the first time this week. It will make two trajectory adjustments. In December, it will fly past Earth and head towards its target, the Trojan asteroids of Jupiter.

Lucy probe. Source: NASA

Large-scale maneuver of the Lucy spacecraft

On Wednesday, January 31, the Lucy spacecraft will launch its main engines outside Earth for the first time since its launch in August 2021. During the start of the main engines, the spacecraft will burn about half of its onboard fuel. This will be followed by a second, larger-scale maneuver, which, according to NASA, is scheduled for Saturday, February 3.

The purpose of these two operations in early 2024 is to change the speed of the vehicle by about 3,200 km/h. Prior to these two maneuvers, the spacecraft experienced maximum velocity changes of about 16 km/h, but they were small enough to be achieved using the spacecraft’s secondary, less powerful engines. 

After these maneuvers, the next important milestone for Lucy will be a flyby of Earth in December 2024, when the spacecraft will perform a gravitational maneuver near our planet, which, we hope, will put it on a new trajectory. During this flyby, the probe will approach the Earth at a distance of 370 kilometers.

In particular, the combination of these shifts in 2024 will displace the spacecraft from its current orbit around the Sun, which just runs over the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

Further flight plan

The new Lucy orbit will carry the spacecraft past the main asteroid belt. During this flyby, Lucy will take the opportunity to visit the small body of the main asteroid belt 52246 Donaldjohanson in April 2025.

After that, Lucy will head to Jupiter and the location of the Trojans, which share the orbit with the gas giant around the Sun. The Trojans are located in two loose groups, one of which is located just ahead of the gas giant, called the “Greek camp”, and the other is located behind it — the “Trojan camp”.

First, Lucy will visit the Greek camp of Trojan asteroids, and in August 2027, it will target Eurybates and its satellite Queta. After that, the spacecraft will fly past four more Trojan asteroids and three more moons, and eventually make its last visit to Earth in 2031 before this mission ends in 2033.

According to

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