Finally, NASA’s asteroid-hopping mission Lucy begins its journey to the previously unexplored Trojan asteroids, which follow Jupiter as it orbits the sun.
On Wednesday (Jan. 31), the Lucy spacecraft will fire up its main engines off Earth for the first time since its launch in August 2021. Turning on the Lucy main engines will cause the spacecraft to burn up about half of the fuel on board. This will be followed by a second, larger maneuver, which NASA says is currently scheduled for Saturday (February 3).
The goal of these two operations in early 2024 is to change Lucy’s speed by about 2,000 mph (3,217 km/h).
Before these two maneuvers, the spacecraft had undergone maximum velocity shifts of about 10 mph (16 km/h), but they were small enough to be achieved by the spacecraft’s less powerful secondary thrusts.
Related: NASA’s Lucy spacecraft successfully completes its first flyby of the asteroid “Dinki”
After these maneuvers, Lucy’s next major event will be a flyby of Earth in December 2024, at which time the spacecraft will get a second gravitational assist from our planet that will hopefully nudge it onto a new trajectory. Lucy will come as close as 230 miles (370 kilometers) to Earth during this flyby.
In particular, the combination of these 2024 maneuvers will move the spacecraft from its current orbit around the Sun, which just bypasses the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter and allows it to visit the small asteroid Dinkeenish, or “Dinky,” on November 1. , 2023. While doing so, Lucy helps NASA scientists discover that Denki is actually a double asteroid system (double, in a way).
The resulting new Lucy orbit will carry the spacecraft through the main asteroid belt. During this pass, Lucy will take the opportunity to visit the small main asteroid belt object 52246 Donaldjohanson in April 2025.
After that, Lucy will be on her way toward Jupiter and into the domain of the Trojans, which share the gas giant’s orbit around the sun. The Trojans are arranged in two loose groups, one group slightly ahead of the gas giant, the Greek camp, and another behind it, the Trojan camp.
Lucy will visit the Greek camp of Troy first, and set her sights on asteroid Eurybates and its satellite Quetta in August 2027.
The spacecraft will then fly by four more Trojan asteroids and three more moons, eventually making a final visit to Earth in 2031 before the Lucy mission comes to a close in 2033.