Illustration of the LUCY space probe, returning to Earth for a gravitational maneuver in late 2024. Source: NASA / Robert Lea
Mission NASA «Lucy» finally goes to space to travel to the unexplored Trojan asteroid, following Jupiter.
31 January The spaceship «Lucy» fired its main engines outside the Earth for the first time since its launch in August 2021. When starting the main engines «Lucy» consumes about half of its fuel. This will be followed by a second, more large-scale maneuver, scheduled for February 3. The purpose of these two operations is to change the speed of «Lucy» by approximately 3217 kilometers per hour.
These two manned spacecraft achieved maximum speeds of about 16 km/h, but they were small enough to be achieved with secondary, less powerful engines.
After these maneuvers, the next important step for «Lucy» will be to fly by the Earth in December 2024, when a gravitational maneuver will take the spacecraft on a new trajectory. During this flight «Lucy» will approach the Earth at a distance of 370 kilometers.
A combination of these maneuvers in 2024 will combine the spacecraft with its current orbit around the Sun, which will pass tangentially to the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter and will allow it to visit the tiny asteroid Dinkinesh (152830 Dinkinesh).
As a result, the new orbit of «Lucy» will lead the spacecraft past the main belt of asteroids. During this passage «Lucy» visits the small body of the main belt of asteroids Donaldjohanson (52246 Donaldjohanson) in April 2025.
After this «Lucy» heads towards Jupiter and the Trojan asteroids, which divide 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» visits the «camp» of Trojan asteroids, aiming at the asteroid Eurybates (3548 Eurybates) and its satellite Queta in August 2027. The spacecraft will then fly past four more Trojan asteroids and three more moons and eventually make its last visit to Earth in 2031, before the «Lucy» mission comes to an end in 2033.