NASA’s Lucy spacecraft “phones home” after first high-speed asteroid encounter

NASA launches spacecraft on 12-year mission

NASA launches spacecraft on 12-year mission


A spacecraft exploring an asteroid belt successfully “phoned home” to NASA after a high-speed asteroid encounter on Wednesday.

Spaceship, named LucyThe primary mission is to explore Jupiter Trojan asteroids, a series of asteroids trapped in the orbit of a gas giant. The new high-speed encounter was with a small main belt asteroid called Dinginesh, which is “10 to 100 times smaller” than the Trojan asteroids. NASA said the flyby served as an in-flight test of Lucy’s “terminal tracking system.” Press release.

Based on information sent to NASA when Lucy “phoned home,” the spacecraft is deemed to be in “good health” and researchers are ordered to begin releasing data obtained during the rendezvous. The process will take about a week, according to NASA A press release describing the spacecraft’s missionand show how Lucy performed during the meeting.

The spacecraft may have passed the asteroid at speeds of up to 10,000 miles per hour, according to NASA. During this time, the spacecraft’s observation system must “actively monitor the position” of the small asteroid and move autonomously to make those observations.

A graphic illustrating the expected motion of NASA’s Lucy spacecraft and its instrument pointing platform during an asteroid encounter with Tinginesh.


Several features on the spacecraft must be activated during the encounter, including a high-resolution camera that will take a series of images every 15 seconds as it approaches the asteroid. A color imager and an infrared spectrometer should also be implemented. Lucy is also equipped with thermal infrared instruments, which NASA said were not designed to track an asteroid as small as Dinginesh, but researchers are interested in seeing if the instruments can detect the asteroid anyway.

Even as Lucy moves away from the asteroid, the spacecraft will use some of its instruments to observe Dinginesh “periodically” for another four days to collect data.

Nov. 1, 2023, this image shows the satellite’s “moonrise” from behind Dinginesh, one of the most detailed images returned by NASA’s Lucy spacecraft during its flyby from about 270 miles away.

NASA/Goddard/SwRI/Johns Hopkins APL/NOAO

Lucy started into space in 2021 on a 12-year mission to explore eight asteroids.

The spacecraft is named after It got its name from the 1967 Beatles song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” after 3.2-million-year-old skeletons of a human ancestor discovered in Ethiopia. It inspired NASA to send the shuttle into space with lyrics from band members and words of wisdom from other celebrities, the Associated Press reported. reported. The spacecraft also carried a disc made of lab-grown diamonds for one of its science instruments.

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