A NASA spacecraft will swing close to Earth


This Sunday, a spaceship named Lucy will be in the sky, only without diamonds.

NASA’s Lucy spacecraft will skirt the Earth, coming within a few hundred miles of us on its journey to Jupiter’s distant Trojan asteroids.

The spacecraft will pass 220 miles above Earth’s surface on Sunday morning, according to a NASA press release.

And some lucky observers will be able to spot Lucy from Earth, NASA says.

The spacecraft that will jump over the asteroids will be visible from Western Australia at around 6:55 am EST. But it will fade from sight after a few minutes. At 7:26 am EST, it should be visible in the western United States, assuming the sky is clear and sky watchers have decent binoculars.

Getting that close to Earth will require the spacecraft to navigate an area dense with satellites and debris. NASA is implementing special procedures to prevent Lucy from bumping into something on her journey.

“The Lucy team has prepared two different maneuvers,” Coralie Adam, team leader of KinetX Aerospace’s deputy navigation team Lucy, said in the release. “If the team detects that Lucy is at risk of colliding with a satellite or piece of debris, then – 12 hours before the closest approach to Earth – the spacecraft will perform one of these, altering the closest approach time of two or four seconds.

“This is a small fix, but it’s enough to avoid a potentially catastrophic collision.”

The 12-year Lucy mission was launched in October 2021. The mission’s objective is to explore the swarms of Trojan asteroids orbiting Jupiter. Asteroids have never been directly observed before; the image above shows an illustration of Lucy approaching one of the asteroids. But if all goes to plan, Lucy will deliver the first high-resolution images of the asteroids.

The spacecraft will swing close to Earth a total of three times during its mission. Entering Earth’s orbit helps give Lucy the boost she needs to continue her journey.

“The last time we saw the spacecraft, it was encased in the payload fairing in Florida,” said Hal Levison, Lucy’s principal investigator at the Southwest Research Institute’s Boulder, Colorado office, referring to a protective cone used during launches. “It is exciting to be able to stay here in Colorado and see the spaceship again.

“And this time Lucy will be in heaven.”

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