NASA’s Lucy to Flyby Another Asteroid 

by | Jan 27, 2023 | News Articles, Product, Space Exploration

This addition brings Lucy mission’s total flybys to 10 asteroids.

Launched in October 2021, the 12-year-long Lucy mission was launched by NASA with the goal of studying the Trojan asteroids orbiting the largest planet of our solar system, Jupiter. These asteroids of Jupiter are thought to be remnants of the early solar system. The mission will also study other small bodies in the region, including comets and other asteroids, specifically two separate sets of Trojan asteroids. The Lucy spacecraft will reach these groups in 2027 and 2033 respectively.

One of the main objectives of the mission is to study the Trojan asteroids, which are thought to be made up of primitive materials that have remained unchanged since the formation of the solar system. In fact, they are believed to be primordial material that formed the outer planets. By studying these Trojans, researchers hope to unravel the clues as to the conditions and processes that led to the creation of our solar system and the early stages of planetary evolution.

Lucy spacecraft launches on October 16, 2021, from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. (Source: NASA)

NASA’s Lucy mission is also expected to provide new insights into the potential for life in our solar system. The Trojan asteroids are thought to contain water ice and organic compounds, which are building blocks of life. By studying these asteroids, scientists hope to learn more about the potential for life in other parts of the solar system, including on Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons.

The Lucy spacecraft will be studying a variety of scientific objectives related to the Trojan asteroids, comets, and other small bodies in the Jupiter system. Some of the primary scientific objectives of the mission include:

  • Geology: Lucy will study the physical properties, geology, and structure of the Trojan asteroids, including their composition, surface features, and internal structure.
  • Chemistry: Lucy will examine the chemical composition of the Trojan asteroids, including the types and amounts of elements and minerals present.
  • Dynamics: Lucy will strive to understand the dynamics of the Trojan asteroids, including their orbits, rotation, and other physical properties that affect their motion.
  • Origins: Lucy will gain insights into the origins of the Trojan asteroids, including how they formed and evolved over time.
  • Life: Lucy will survey Trojan asteroids for the potential for life, including the presence of water ice and organic compounds, also known to be building blocks of life.
  • Other small bodies: Lucy will also investigate comets and other small bodies in the Jupiter system, in order to understand their properties and how they relate to the Trojan asteroids.

Lucy’s orbital path. (Source: Southwest Research Institute)

Initially, the target of the mission was to research on a Main Belt asteroid, 52246 Donaldjohanson (expected flyby in 2025), and several other Trojans between (2027 and 2033). On January 26, Hal Levison, Lucy principal investigator and a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Colorado, noted that the mission will add asteroid 1999 VD57, also referred to as Dinkinesh, to Lucy’s list of flybys. He explained that Dinkinesh was not initially on the menu as it was very small but a Dinknesh flyby for Lucy will act as an extra dress rehearsal for its Trojan tour.

The current trajectory of the Lucy mission will have the spacecraft flying as close as 64,000 kilometers to Dinkinesh. The trajectory is to be altered in May to reduce the distance to 450 kilometers from the asteroid instead. So far, Lucy has conducted the first of three planned Earth flybys on October 16, 2022. While doing so, the spacecraft’s L’LORRI (Lucy Long Range Reconnaissance Imager) camera imaged our natural satellite to capture some spectacular shots of the moon.

Overall, the Lucy mission is an ambitious and exciting endeavor that will greatly advance our understanding of the origins and evolution of our solar system. The spacecraft is expected to complete its mission in 2028, and the data it collects will be studied for years to come. As NASA Administrator Bill Nelson puts it, “Lucy embodies NASA’s enduring quest to push out into the cosmos for the sake of exploration and science, to better understand the universe and our place within it. I can’t wait to see what mysteries the mission uncovers!”