Gravitational assists are marvels of orbital mechanics. Normally, they’re executed 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 internal photo voltaic system to achieve areas within the outer photo voltaic system extra shortly. Lucy not too long ago made such a maneuver on its method out to the Trojan asteroids alongside Jupiter’s orbit, and its shut move was each a marvel of precision and velocity.
The flyby, which went off and not using a hitch on October sixteenth, occurred about one yr 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 enhance afforded by maneuvers similar 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 dwelling planet. After this profitable slingshot, it’s now touring at shut to fifteen kilometers per second.
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However to get there, the probe has to swing shut sufficient to Earth that it was really nearer to the bottom than the ISS usually is. So shut, actually, that when you occurred to be in Western Australia on October sixteenth, you might 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 screens crowded orbital paths, such because the some that Lucy needed to maneuver via. Fixed communication between the groups was very important because the probe made it via the densely packed orbital aircraft.
If there had been a possible collision, the workforce working Lucy had one in every of two choices: both kick the thrusters on so the probe would move by the potential collision both two or 4 seconds earlier than or sooner. That 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.
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 properly on its approach to the Trojan asteroids following Jupiter, the place it should arrive in 2027.
Nevertheless, there will probably be another such maneuver – in 2024, Lucy will get one other enhance from its dwelling planet on its method out to the outer photo voltaic system. It won’t be as spectacular or seen as this one, but it surely serves the identical goal – to go the place no probe has gone earlier than.
Be taught Extra:
NASA – NASA’s Lucy to Fly Previous Hundreds of Objects for Earth Gravity Help
UT – Lucy’s Photo voltaic Array is Fastened! (Principally)
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
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