NASA’s Lucy spacecraft is on its way to Trojan asteroids to learn about the formation of the solar system, but it doesn’t travel in a straight line from Earth to Jupiter’s orbit. Instead, he is performing a series of slingshot maneuvers to aid him on his journey, including a recent maneuver around Earth. This weekend, some lucky observers got to see Lucy as she performed a flyby of the Earth before returning to space.
– Raphael Marschall (@SpaceMarschall) October 16, 2022
The spacecraft approached Earth at 7:04 am ET on Sunday, October 16, when it passed within 220 miles of the Earth’s surface. Initially, it was scheduled to get closer to the event, but Lucy’s team chose to keep a little further away due to problems Lucy had with one of her solar panels. Lucy has two round ranks, which lined up after launch, but one of them failed to fully unfold and did not snap into place. After months of careful tuning, the second array is almost fully deployed, but it’s not locked yet, so it was best to be careful with the gravitational forces of a flyby.
“In the original plan, Lucy was actually going to pass about 30 miles closer to Earth,” said Rich Burns, Lucy’s project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, in a statement. “However, when it became clear that we could have done this flyby with one of the solar panels unlocked, we chose to use some of our fuel reserves so that the spacecraft passes Earth at a slightly higher altitude, reducing the disturbance from the atmospheric resistance on the spacecraft’s solar panels.
As Lucy moved away from Earth, she also passed close to the moon. This gave the spacecraft the opportunity to acquire some images that will be used for calibration, as the moon is a useful substitute for the asteroids that Lucy will eventually investigate.
“I’m particularly excited about the latest images Lucy will take from the moon,” said John Spencer, deputy project scientist at the Southwest Research Institute, who leads the Lucy mission. “Counting craters to understand the history of Trojan asteroid collisions is the key to the science that Lucy will conduct and this will be the first opportunity to calibrate Lucy’s ability to detect craters by comparing it to previous observations of the moon by other missions. space. “