NASA finds an additional target for the Lucy mission

On its way to the Trojan asteroids of Jupiter, the Lucy probe will visit an additional target. This is stated in a message published on the NASA website.

Flight plan of the Lucy device

The Lucy mission was launched in October 2021. Its purpose is to study Trojan asteroids in the Jovian orbit. This is how astronomers call two large groups of objects that are constantly located in the vicinity of the Lagrange points L₄ and L₅ of the Sun-Jupiter system.

The Lucy spacecraft in the artist’s image. Source: SwRI

Until recently, the mission plan looked like this. On the way to the point L₄ Lucy should make a flyby of the Donaldjohanson object (52246 Donaldjohanson), located in the Main Asteroid Belt. This event is scheduled for 2025. The spacecraft will reach the vicinity of the L₄ point in 2027. There it will visit the twin asteroids Eurybates (3548 Eurybates) and Polymele (15094 Polymele), and then the asteroids Leucus (11351 Leucus) and Orus (21900 Orus). After studying them, Lucy will return to Earth and use its gravity to perform a maneuver that will direct it to the point L₅. In 2033, the automatic scout will approach the double asteroid Patroclus (617 Patroclus). Thus, in 12 years, Lucy should have studied nine asteroids at once, which is a new record.

However, now the number of asteroids that Lucy will visit has increased to ten. The mission management decided to include the flight of object (152830) 1999 VD57 in the mission program.

New target for Lucy

(152830) 1999 VD57 is a small Main-belt asteroid. Its diameter is only 700 meters. It was found by French astronomers during an investigation, the purpose of which was to search for suitable companion objects that could become additional targets for Lucy. In total, the researchers studied the orbits of half a million asteroids. (152830) 1999 VD57 turned out to be the closest to Lucy. When moving along its original trajectory, the device had to fly at a distance of 64 thousand km from it.

The orbit of the asteroid (152830) 1999 VD57 and the flight path of Lucy. Source: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

After making calculations, mission specialists found out that a small maneuver would be enough to bring Lucy even closer to (152830) 1999 VD57. After that, it was decided to add this object to the mission program. In May 2023, Lucy will perform a series of course corrections. They will allow spacecraft to make a close flyby of the asteroid on November 1, 2023. The minimum approach distance will be 450 km.

Engineers use the flyby (152830) 1999 VD57 for training. They will test the effectiveness of the guidance system of the device. It is designed to determine the exact location of asteroids, which is required for planning an observation program and setting up cameras. In addition, Lucy will receive spectra and images of the surface of (152830) 1999 VD57, which will allow it to calibrate its scientific instruments and check the effectiveness of their work.

Recall that NASA recently, at least until 2024, abandoned attempts to uncover the jammed Lucy solar array.

According to https://www.nasa.gov

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