The beginning of a historical journey to the asteroids following Jupiter
NASA Mission «Lucy» finally heads into space to travel to the unexplored Trojan asteroids following Jupiter.
31 January spaceship «Lucy» fired its main engines outside of Earth for the first time since its launch in August 2021. When starting the main engines «Lucy» will burn about half of its fuel. This will be followed by a second, larger-scale maneuver, scheduled for February 3. The purpose of these two operations is to change the speed of «Lucy» approximately 3217 kilometers per hour.
Prior to these two maneuvers, the spacecraft experienced maximum speed changes of approximately 16 km/h, but these were small enough to be achieved using secondary, less powerful engines.
After these maneuvers, the next important milestone for «Lucy» will fly around the Earth in December 2024, when a gravity assist maneuver will take the spacecraft onto a new trajectory. During this flight «Lucy» will approach the Earth at a distance of 370 kilometers.
The combination of these 2024 maneuvers will shift the spacecraft from its current orbit around the Sun, which is tangential to the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, and allow it to visit the tiny asteroid Dinkinesh (152830 Dinkinesh).
As a result, the new orbit of «Lucy» will guide the spacecraft past the main asteroid belt. During this passage «Lucy». will visit the small main asteroid belt body Donaldjohanson (52246 Donaldjohanson) in April 2025.
After that «Lucy» will head towards Jupiter and the Trojan asteroids that share the gas giant's orbit around the Sun. The Trojans are divided into two groups: one located slightly in front of Jupiter, and the other behind it.
«Lucy» will visit «camp» Trojan asteroids, targeting the asteroid Eurybates (3548 Eurybates) and its moon Queta in August 2027. The spacecraft will then fly past four more Trojan asteroids and three more moons, eventually making a final visit to Earth in 2031 before the «Lucy» will be completed in 2033.