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Navigating NASA’s First Mission to the Trojan Asteroids

Dragon
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Post by Dragon on Mon Dec 31, 2018 5:52 pm

In science fiction, explorers can hop in futuristic spaceships and traverse half the galaxy in the blink of a plot hole. However, this sidelines the navigational acrobatics required in order to guarantee real-life mission success.

In 2021, the feat of navigation that is the Lucy mission will launch. To steer Lucy towards its targets doesn’t simply involve programming a map into a spacecraft and giving it gas money – it will fly by six asteroid targets, each in different orbits, over the course of 12 years.

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Navigating NASA’s First Mission to the Trojan Asteroids 334pu7m
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Post by Dragon on Mon Dec 31, 2018 5:54 pm

Navigating NASA’s First Mission to the Trojan Asteroids Ta010359_lucy3-b-orbit-crop_0
Credits: Southwest Research Institute

This diagram illustrates Lucy's orbital path. The spacecraft’s path (green) is shown in a frame of reference where Jupiter remains stationary, giving the trajectory its pretzel-like shape. After launch in October 2021, Lucy has two close Earth flybys before encountering its Trojan targets. In the L4 cloud Lucy will fly by (3548) Eurybates (white), (15094) Polymele (pink), (11351) Leucus (red), and (21900) Orus (red) from 2027-2028.

After diving past Earth again Lucy will visit the L5 cloud and encounter the (617) Patroclus-Menoetius binary (pink) in 2033.

As a bonus, in 2025 on the way to the L4, Lucy flies by a small Main Belt asteroid, (52246) Donaldjohanson (white), named for the discoverer of the Lucy fossil.

After flying by the Patroclus-Menoetius binary in 2033, Lucy will continue cycling between the two Trojan clouds every six years.

Source / Image Courtesy


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Navigating NASA’s First Mission to the Trojan Asteroids 334pu7m
Dragon
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Post by Dragon on Mon Dec 31, 2018 5:55 pm



Trojan asteroids are common at the L4 and L5 Lagrange points of other planets, leading or following the planet in its orbit.

But detecting our own Trojan asteroids from Earth is difficult since they appear close to the sun from our perspective.

In mid-February 2017, NASA's OSIRS-REx mission will search for these elusive objects when the spacecraft passes by Earth's L4 Lagrange point, en route to asteroid Bennu in 2018


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