A NASA spacecraft will swing by Earth


This Sunday, there will be a spaceship called Lucy in the sky, without diamonds.

NASA’s Lucy spacecraft will orbit Earth on its journey to the distant Jupiter Trojan asteroid, which will come within a few hundred kilometers of us.

The spacecraft will pass within 220 kilometers of the Earth’s surface on Sunday morning, according to a NASA news release.

And some lucky observers will be able to spot Lucy from Earth, says NASA.

The asteroid-hopping spacecraft will be visible from western Australia around 6:55 a.m. EST. But it will disappear after a few minutes. By 7:26 AM EST, it should be visible in the western United States, assuming the sky is clear and sky watchers have decent binoculars.

Getting this close to Earth will require the spacecraft to navigate through an area littered with satellites and debris. NASA is implementing special procedures to ensure that Lucy does not hit anything on her journey.

“The Lucy team has prepared two different maneuvers,” Coralie Adam, alternate team leader for KinetX Aerospace’s Lucy navigation team, said in the release. “If the team detects that Lucy is in danger of colliding with a satellite or piece of debris, then – 12 hours before the closest approach to Earth – the spacecraft will run one of them, changing the time of closest approach by two or four seconds.

“This is a small correction, but it is enough to avoid a potentially catastrophic collision.”

The 12-year Lucy mission was launched in October 2021. The purpose of the mission is to explore the Trojan asteroid cluster that orbits Jupiter. Asteroids have never been directly observed; The image above shows an illustration of Lucy approaching one of the asteroids. But if all goes according to plan, Lucy will provide the first high-resolution images of asteroids.

The spacecraft will pass by Earth a total of three times during its mission. Entering Earth’s orbit gives Lucy the push she needs to continue on her path.

“The last time we saw the spacecraft, it was tucked inside the payload fairing in Florida,” said Hal Levison, Lucy’s principal investigator at the Southwest Research Institute’s Boulder, Colorado office, referring to a protective cone used during the launches. “It’s exciting to be here in Colorado and be able to see the spacecraft again.

“And this time Lucy will be in heaven.”