Gravitational assists are marvels of orbital mechanics. Often, they’re carried out for a mixture of gasoline (i.e., value) financial savings and velocity, as it’s typically sooner to take a number of journeys round planets within the interior photo voltaic system to achieve areas within the outer photo voltaic system extra shortly. Lucy lately made such a maneuver on its means out to the Trojan asteroids alongside Jupiter’s orbit, and its shut go was each a marvel of precision and velocity.
The flyby, which went off with out a hitch on October sixteenth, occurred about one 12 months right into a twelve-year mission time for the Trojan asteroid probe. Virtually half of that mission time will probably be spent in transit earlier than reaching its vacation spot in 2027. And that’s with the numerous velocity improve afforded by maneuvers corresponding to the most recent gravitational help.
Already touring at 8 km a second, Lucy isn’t precisely going slowly. However even that velocity isn’t sufficient to get to Jupiter on time, so it wanted a little bit of a lift from its residence planet. After this profitable slingshot, it’s now touring at shut to fifteen kilometers per second.
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A visualization of Lucy’s orbital trajectory.
Credit score – NASA Scientific Visualization Studio
However to get there, the probe has to swing shut sufficient to Earth that it was truly nearer to the bottom than the ISS usually is. So shut, in truth, that should you occurred to be in Western Australia on October sixteenth, you can have doubtlessly seen Lucy with the bare eye for a couple of minutes round 7 PM.
Fortunately, these observers didn’t see a fireball, as Lucy managed to keep away from the quite a few obstacles in its path. That required a little bit of assist from the US’s newly minted Area Power, which displays crowded orbital paths, such because the some that Lucy needed to maneuver by way of. Fixed communication between the groups was very important because the probe made it by way of the densely packed orbital airplane.
If there had been a possible collision, the crew working Lucy had one in all two choices: both kick the thrusters on so the probe would go by the potential collision both two or 4 seconds earlier than or sooner. Which may not sound like a big window, however, for perspective, a four-second speed-up would imply that Lucy was 48 kilometers away from the potential collision when it might have occurred.
UT video describing the Lucy mission.
All this high-speed math and orbital mechanics are actually rocket science, and a number of the greatest brains within the enterprise have decided that this path was the very best for Lucy to take, even it if was barely harmful. It seems their guess paid off, and the probe is nicely on its method to the Trojan asteroids following Jupiter, the place it can arrive in 2027.
Nevertheless, there will probably be yet one more such maneuver – in 2024, Lucy will get one other enhance from its residence planet on its means out to the outer photo voltaic system. It may not be as spectacular or seen as this one, nevertheless it serves the identical objective – to go the place no probe has gone earlier than.
NASA – NASA’s Lucy to Fly Previous Hundreds of Objects for Earth Gravity Help
UT – Lucy’s Photo voltaic Array is Mounted! (Largely)
UT – Lucy is off to Go to Jupiter’s Trojan Asteroids
UT – One other of the Lucy Mission’s Asteroids has a Moon
Artist’s idea of the Lucy missions visiting an asteroid. Credit score – NASA