NASA spacecraft’s flyby of Jupiter can be seen from Earth • The Register

Space observers hoping to catch a glimpse of a NASA-style near-Earth object should look to the skies this weekend as the Jupiter-bound probe Lucy passes our planet for a gravitational assist just in time for its first close anniversary.

Lucy was launched on October 12 last year and will fly by just 790 km (490 miles) above Earth on Sunday October 16.

That means skygazers in northwestern Australia should be able to see Lucy with the naked eye for a few minutes from 1055 to 1102 UTC (from 1855 AWST or 2025 ACST).

For those with a suitable telescope and in western North America, you should be able to see the bird from 1126 UTC (0426 PDT, 0526 MDT, 0126 HST) after it emerges from Earth’s shadow.

“The last time we saw the spacecraft, it was locked in the payload fairing in Florida. It’s exciting to be able to stand here in Colorado and see the spacecraft again,” said Hal Levison, Lucy’s lead investigator.

Lucy will come close to Earth, flying within the orbit of the International Space Station where satellite traffic is heavy. To avoid collisions, Lucy can be instructed by her controllers to perform maneuvers that can adjust her orbit by two or four seconds: “A small correction, but it’s enough to avoid a potentially catastrophic collision,” said Coralie, deputy Head of Lucy Adam’s navigation team.

Rich Burns, Lucy’s project manager at Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, said the satellite was supposed to fly 30 miles closer to Earth, although those plans were changed when one of Lucy’s solar panels failed to engage properly.

Lucy’s low-Earth flight plan brings it close enough that NASA had to account for atmospheric drag, which would make an unlatched solar panel even worse.

“We chose to use some of our fuel reserves to allow the spacecraft to transit the Earth at a slightly higher altitude, which reduces the interference from atmospheric drag on the spacecraft’s solar panels,” Burns said.

This first gravity assist will put Lucy in a two-year orbit around the sun, which still won’t be enough to send the probe to its final destination: Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids. For that, Lucy will return in 2024 for a second gravity assist before becoming the first mission to look at space rocks beyond our system’s asteroid belt.

Lucy’s 12-year mission, of which we are already a year, will see her encounter an asteroid in the Belt before heading to the Trojans, which share an orbit around the Sun with Jupiter.

Lucy will fly past six Trojans to collect data before returning to Earth again in 2030 for a third gravity assist. In The Final Affair, Lucy encounters a binary pair of asteroids in the trailing Trojan swarm, while the first six Trojans she will inspect lead Jupiter orbiting the sun. ®

https://www.theregister.com/2022/10/16/nasas_lucy_set_for_sunday/ NASA spacecraft’s flyby of Jupiter can be seen from Earth • The Register

Rick Schindler

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