In This Week, NASA’s Lucy Asteroid Probe Will Fire It’s Main Engines

Dr. Swapnil Surwase
4 Min Read

Leading NASA’s space mission, Lucy, is currently in orbit, starting a historic journey to the Trojan asteroids that surround Jupiter in its solar orbit. These asteroids have never been studied before, so this is an exciting project, and we can’t wait to see what ground-breaking findings are discovered.

On Wednesday, January 31, the Lucy spacecraft’s main engines will be turned on for the first time in space. Having launched in August 2021, this will be the spacecraft’s first activation. Lucy will burn about half of its fuel when the main engines start up. NASA has scheduled a bigger manoeuvre for Saturday, February 3, following this.

Lucy’s velocity is intended to be altered by approximately 2,000 miles per hour (3,217 kilometres per hour) during these two early 2024 operations.

The spacecraft had experienced velocity changes of about 10 mph (16 kph) prior to these two actions, but they were not substantial enough to necessitate the use of the spacecraft’s primary thrusters.

When Lucy travels near Earth in December 2024, it will accomplish a major milestone that will change its trajectory due to a gravitational boost. The spaceship will get closest to Earth during this encounter, coming within 230 miles (370 km). Lucy will have a second chance to use Earth’s gravity during the flyby, which could lead to it taking a different course.

The trajectory for NASA’s Lucy spacecraft as seen from a perspective looking down on the solar system. Image Credit: NASA/Goddard/SwRI

In particular, incorporating these 2024 movements will change the spacecraft’s course from its current orbit around the sun, which hardly touches the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

On November 1, 2023, the spacecraft was able to successfully approach the tiny asteroid known as Dinkinesh, or “Dinky,” thanks to this modification. During this mission, Lucy aided NASA researchers in uncovering the surprising fact that Dinky is, in fact, a binary asteroid system.

The spacecraft will travel outside of the main asteroid belt due to Lucy’s new orbit, which will allow it to visit the minor main asteroid belt object 52246 Donaldjohanson in April 2025.

After that, Lucy will set out to travel to Jupiter and the Trojan territory. These Trojans are separated into two separate clusters and live inside the gas giant’s solar orbit. The gas giant is positioned behind the second cluster, known as the Trojan camp, and slightly ahead of the first cluster, known as the Greek camp.

The spacecraft Lucy, scheduled to launch in 2027, will go to the Greek camp of Trojan asteroids. It will first stop in August at the asteroid Eurybates and its partner, the smaller object known as Queta.

The spacecraft will fly by four more Trojan asteroids and three moonlets after its encounter with the Eurybates, culminating in a final visit to Earth in 2031 before the mission ends in 2033.

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Dr. Swapnil Surwase As a passionate wordsmith and enthusiast of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Dr. Swapnil Surwase brings a unique blend of creativity and expertise to the world of Astronomy and Astrophysics. With a penchant for turning thoughts into compelling narratives, he have four years of experience in Astronomy and Astrophysics. Dr. Swapnil Surwase is dedicated to unraveling complex topics and making them accessible to readers from all walks of life. When not immersed in the world of writing, Dr. Swapnil Surwase can be found reading and researching, proving that life's most enriching experiences often lie at the intersection of curiosity and exploration. Stay connected with Dr. Swapnil Surwase for thought-provoking articles, engaging stories, and a journey through the fascinating landscape of Astronomy and Astrophysics. Connect with Dr. Swapnil Surwase on Instagram @my_space_21 or drop a line at swapnilsurwase317@gmail.com.
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