The Lucy spacecraft has fired up its engine and will return to Earth ahead of an important phase in its asteroid exploration mission.

by alex

Departing for the next phase, “Lucy” returns to Earth to receive a gravitational impulse

NASA spacecraft «Lucy» returns to Earth this December before continuing its mission to study asteroids that formed in the solar system 4.5 billion years ago.

The spacecraft began its journey home with the most powerful main engine fire of its 12-year mission. On Saturday, February 3, «Lucy» powered its main engines for 36 minutes after the first firing on January 31, which lasted only 6 minutes. The two engine burns, which consumed more than half the fuel, were intended to change the orbit of the probe, which is currently located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, to the vicinity of Mars. This will allow «Lucy» become the first spacecraft to visit the Trojan asteroids, which share an orbit around the Sun with a gas giant.

Having completed a combined maneuver, «Lucy» changed its speed to about 3200 kilometers per hour and headed towards Earth. Previously, the spacecraft used its secondary engines only for minor maneuvers that changed its speed by about 16 kilometers per hour.

Visit «Lucy» To Earth in December 2024 will be important for the subsequent guidance of the spacecraft to the Trojan asteroids. Trojans are asteroids divided into two populations: the Greek camp, which lies ahead of Jupiter in its orbit around the Sun, and the Trojan camp, which follows the gas giant. After the end of the fuel supply «Lucy» will receive a boost from Earth that will allow it to reach these previously unexplored asteroids. This will be the second gravity assist the spacecraft has received since its launch.

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Космический аппарат «Люси» запустил двигатель и вернётся к Земле перед важным этапом миссии исследования астероидов

During the mission «Lucy» has already made one return to Earth on October 16, 2022, coming within 350 kilometers of the planet. This passage, closer than the ISS flight, was provided by «Lucy» impulse about 46,700 km/h.

On its second return to Earth later this year, “Lucy” will fly within 370 km of the planet and get the boost it needs to traverse the main asteroid belt.

In November 2023 «Lucy» visited her first asteroid – a tiny main belt body called Dinkinesh, or “Dinky”, which turned out to be a binary system. In April 2025, while flying through the main asteroid belt, «Lucy&raquo. will meet its second target – a small object 52246 Donaldjohanson.

After this meeting «Lucy» are scheduled for August 2027 with the Trojan family asteroid Eurybates and its satellite Queta. Then the device will visit four more asteroids, three of which are also binary systems, which will allow the study of three satellites.

December 2024 will not be the last visit of «Lucy» to Earth. It will receive its final gravitational support in 2031, which will help it reach the twin asteroids Patroclus and Menothius in March 2033, which will be the final stage of the mission.

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