NASA’s Lucy spacecraft is powering on toward Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids after making a successful flyby of another asteroid called Dinkinesh, located in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
Lucy sent a signal to the mission’s operations team on Monday, confirming its brief rendezvous with the 2,500-foot-wide Dinkinesh.
“Based on the information received, the team has determined that the spacecraft is in good health and the team has commanded the spacecraft to start downlinking the data collected during the encounter,” NASA said in a message on its website shortly after contact was made.
It said it’ll take up to a week for all of the data to be downlinked to Earth, adding: “The team is looking forward to seeing how the spacecraft performed during this first in-flight test of a high-speed asteroid encounter.” Scientists will also be keen to pore over data that gives us our closest-ever look at Dinkinesh.
Lucy’s rendezvous with Dinkinesh was added to the mission only last year — after the spacecraft’s launch in 2021 — when the team learned that only a few additional maneuvers were needed to achieve a flyby. The encounter also offered an excellent opportunity to try out Lucy’s asteroid-tracking instruments ahead of the main event involving eight of Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids.
NASA’s Lucy spacecraft is expected to reach its first targeted Trojan in 2027, so there’s still quite a wait for those working on the mission, as well as those following its progress.
The Trojan asteroids — of which more than 9,800 have so far been discovered — are remnants of our early solar system and comprise leftover raw materials from the formation of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.
Lucy will gather data from flybys of 10 Trojans, with scientists hoping it will offer clues about how the solar system formed.
The spacecraft experienced an issue shortly after launch when one of its large solar arrays failed to fully deploy, though it doesn’t appear to have hampered the mission and NASA is expecting to achieve all of its goals.
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