NASA adds asteroid flyby to Lucy mission

WASHINGTON — NASA has added one other asteroid flyby to its Lucy mission later this 12 months that can present a check of its capabilities for future encounters.

NASA introduced Jan. 25 that the spacecraft will fly by the small main-belt asteroid 1999 VD57 on Nov. 1. The undertaking chosen that asteroid after one scientist collaborating on the mission, Raphael Marschall of France’s Good Observatory, in contrast the spacecraft’s trajectory to the orbits of 500,000 asteroids.

Lucy’s present trajectory will take the spacecraft as shut at 64,000 kilometers to the asteroid. The spacecraft will carry out a collection of maneuvers beginning in Could to regulate its trajectory so that it’ll as a substitute cross 450 kilometers from the asteroid.

Hal Levison, principal investigator for Lucy on the Southwest Analysis Institute, mentioned at a Jan. 25 assembly of NASA’s Small Our bodies Evaluation Group that the mission crew has given 1999 VD57 the provisional identify of Dinkinesh. That’s the Ethiopian identify for the Lucy fossil after which the NASA mission is called. The identify is pending formal approval by the Worldwide Astronomical Union.

Dinkinesh is a S-type asteroid, he mentioned, with a diameter of not more than 800 meters and comparable in dimension to Bennu, the close to Earth asteroid visited by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission. It might be the smallest main-belt asteroid {that a} spacecraft has flown by.

Whereas the flyby will gather photos and different knowledge in regards to the asteroid, that’s not the first cause for the shut method. “It is a threat mitigation train,” Levison mentioned, specializing in the “terminal monitoring system” the spacecraft will use to lock on to the asteroid because it approaches, maximizing the information its devices gather.

That system has some heritage from previous missions however has by no means been examined in house earlier than. “We determined that it’s useful to check it out as quickly as we will,” he mentioned.

The flyby of Dinkinesh is along with one other main-belt asteroid, 52246 Donaldjohanson, that it’ll fly by in 2025. Lucy will then fly by a number of Trojan asteroids at Jupiter’s distance from the solar between 2027 and 2033.

The Dinkinesh flyby will even check how properly it might level at a goal provided that one in all its two giant round photo voltaic arrays has not latched into place. “We’re not precisely certain, provided that the photo voltaic array will not be latched, of the pointing stability traits of the spacecraft, so this will even assist us decide that,” he mentioned.

NASA introduced Jan. 19 that it was suspending efforts to fully deploy that solar array after the latest deployment try in December confirmed solely “minimal ranges” of progress. The array, the company mentioned, was almost absolutely deployed and gave the impression to be secure, however didn’t rule out extra efforts to lock it into place late subsequent 12 months, when the spacecraft makes one other Earth flyby.

Levison mentioned that, within the December try, there have been indicators that the array was tensioning, which he mentioned was a constructive signal. “It makes us actually fairly assured that it’s protected to fly the mission as-is,” he mentioned.


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