Lucy Spacecraft Returning to Earth for Christmas Rendezvous
NASA’s Lucy spacecraft, on a mission to study asteroids dating back to the formation of the solar system, is making its way back to Earth for a critical maneuver in December 2024. The spacecraft recently conducted a significant engine burn, the largest planned for its 12-year journey, to make the necessary adjustments.
The purpose of these engine burns is to transition Lucy from its current orbit in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter to a path that will lead it to the region near Jupiter, where the Trojan asteroids reside. This shift will mark an unprecedented milestone, as Lucy will become the first spacecraft to explore this unique group of asteroids sharing an orbit with Jupiter.
By changing course through a powerful maneuver that increased its velocity by approximately 2,000 mph, Lucy is now on track to return to Earth. This significant adjustment in velocity differs from its previous minor thruster maneuvers, which only resulted in modest changes in speed.
Boosting Lucy’s Next Mission Phase
After expending a substantial portion of its fuel reserves during this engine burn, Lucy will rely on the Earth’s gravity to propel it towards the Trojan asteroids, divided into Greek and Trojan camps based on their positions relative to Jupiter. This upcoming gravity assist will be the second Lucy has utilized since its launch.
In a previous encounter in October 2022, Lucy skimmed past Earth at a distance of 220 miles, receiving a gravitational boost that propelled it forward at an impressive speed of 29,000 mph. With the upcoming Earth flyby in late 2024, Lucy will pass even closer at 230 miles to obtain the necessary momentum to navigate through the dense asteroid belt.
Explorations and Discoveries Ahead
During its ongoing mission, Lucy made its first stop at the asteroid known as Dinkinesh, or ‘Dinky,’ in November 2023. This initial visit unveiled surprising findings, revealing Dinky to be a binary asteroid system. As Lucy continues its journey into the asteroid belt, further discoveries and revelations are anticipated.
As Lucy embarks on this intricate dance through space, the spacecraft’s return to Earth marks a crucial phase in its mission, setting the stage for unprecedented explorations yet to come.
For more information on Lucy’s asteroid observations and the latest updates on its mission, visit the link below.