NASA’s Lucy Spacecraft Hours Away from 1st Asteroid Encounter

We are only a few hours away from the NASA Lucy spacecraft’s first close up look at the small inner-main belt asteroid, Dinkinesh. Dinkinesh is 10 to 100 times smaller than the Jupiter Trojan asteroids that are the mission’s main targets. The Dinkinesh encounter serves as a first in-flight test of the spacecraft’s terminal tracking system.

Lucy’s closest approach will occur at 12:54 p.m. EDT (16:54 UTC) at a distance within 270 miles (430 km) of Dinkinesh. However, there won’t be much time to observe the asteroid at this distance as Lucy speeds past at 10,000 mph (4.5 km/s).

A graphic illustrating the expected motion of the NASA Lucy spacecraft and its instrument pointing platform (IPP) during the encounter with asteroid Dinkinesh. The spacecraft’s terminal tracking system is designed to actively monitor the location of Dinkinesh, enabling the spacecraft and IPP to move autonomously in order to observe the asteroid throughout the encounter. The yellow, blue, and grey arrows indicate the directions of the Sun, Earth, and Dinkinesh, respectively. The red arrow indicates motion of the spacecraft. An animation is available here. Credit: NASA/Goddard/SwRI

Two hours before closest approach, the spacecraft and the rotational platform that holds Lucy’s science instruments (the instrument pointing platform) will be commanded to move into encounter configuration. After this point, the spacecraft’s high-gain antenna will point away from the Earth and the spacecraft will not be able to return data for the remainder of the encounter.

Shortly thereafter, the high-resolution grayscale camera on Lucy, L’LORRI, will begin taking a series of images every 15 minutes. (L’LORRI, short for Lucy’s Long Range Reconnaissance Imager, is supplied by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.) Dinkinesh has been visible to L’LORRI as a single point of light since early September when the team began using the instrument to assist with spacecraft navigation. The team estimates that at a distance of just under 20,000 miles (30,000 km), Dinkinesh may appear to be a few pixels in size, just barely resolved by the camera.

Additionally, Lucy’s thermal infrared instrument, L’TES, will begin collecting data. L’TES (formally the Lucy Thermal Emission Spectrometer, provided by Arizona State University) is not designed to observe an asteroid as small as Dinkinesh, so the team is interested to see if L’TES is able to detect the asteroid and measure its temperature during the encounter.

An hour before the closest approach, the spacecraft will begin actively tracking Dinkinesh using the onboard terminal tracking system. The spacecraft will use T2Cam (the Terminal Tracking Cameras, provided by Malin Space Science Systems), to repeatedly image the asteroid. In the minutes around closest approach, this system is designed to autonomously reorient the spacecraft and its instrument pointing platform as needed to keep the asteroid centered in the cameras’ field of view. Testing this system is the primary goal of this encounter.

Ten minutes before closest approach, the spacecraft is instructed to begin “closest approach imaging” with the L’LORRI instrument. In these images, taken every 15 seconds at three different exposure times, the asteroid will be several hundred pixels across, allowing the team an unprecedented view of this small main belt asteroid, which is estimated to be less than half a mile (1 km) in diameter.

Lucy will wait until about six minutes before closest approach to begin taking data with its color imager (the Multi-spectral Visible Imaging Camera, MVIC) and infrared spectrometer (Linear Etalon Imaging Spectral Array, LEISA), which together comprise the L’Ralph instrument (provided by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland).

About six minutes after the closest approach, L’Ralph will stop taking data, and Lucy will conclude the closest approach observations. By this time, the spacecraft will already be almost 1,700 miles (2,700 km) past the asteroid. Lucy will begin a maneuver referred to as a “pitchback” in which it reorients its solar arrays toward the Sun while the instrument pointing platform continues to autonomously track the asteroid as the spacecraft departs. This maneuver is designed to be carried out slowly to minimize spacecraft vibrations as the spacecraft moves its large solar arrays. L’LORRI will image Dinkinesh throughout this process to monitor spacecraft stability.

Once the spacecraft is over 8,000 miles (13,000 km) from the asteroid, Lucy will stop actively tracking the position of Dinkinesh. From that point on, the team expects the asteroid to remain visible to the spacecraft’s cameras without the need to reposition the spacecraft or instruments.

Two hours after closest approach, the L’TES instrument will be instructed to stop taking data. L’LORRI will continue periodically observing the asteroid for another four days to monitor the light curve of the asteroid.

Once Lucy turns its high-gain antenna back toward Earth, it will be able to resume communications, with an approximately 30-minute light-travel-time delay in each direction. The team expects to receive the first signal from the spacecraft within two hours of closest approach. After assessing the health and safety of the spacecraft, the team will command the spacecraft to begin downlinking the data taken during the encounter. It will take up to a week for all data to be returned to Earth via NASA’s Deep Space Network.

NASA’s Lucy Spacecraft Ready for 1st Asteroid Encounter

NASA’s Lucy spacecraft is on track for its first asteroid encounter on Nov. 1. Lucy’s optical navigation team has confirmed that the latest trajectory correction maneuver on Sept 29 accurately set the spacecraft on course for its flyby of the small main belt asteroid Dinkinesh. The spacecraft is anticipated to pass approximately 265 miles (425 km) from the asteroid at 12:54 p.m. EDT.

On Oct. 28, the team sent the spacecraft what is known as the final knowledge update, a package of data with the most up to date information about the relative positions of the spacecraft and asteroid. This dataset is precise enough to guide the spacecraft for nearly all the half a million miles (800,000 km) that currently separate Lucy and Dinkinesh.

About an hour before the spacecraft’s closest approach, when it’s approximately 10,000 miles (16,000 km) from the asteroid, Lucy will begin actively monitoring the position of Dinkinesh with its terminal tracking system, although due to Dinkinesh’s small size, the system is not expected to “lock-on” to the asteroid until just a few minutes before closest approach. This system will autonomously reorient the spacecraft to keep the small asteroid within the field of view of the science instruments as the spacecraft zooms by at around 10,000 mph (4.5 m/s). This will be the first use of this terminal tracking system, and this flyby was designed to test the system in real spaceflight conditions.

As Lucy approaches Dinkinesh on the morning of Nov. 1, the spacecraft will rotate into a position that enables it to continually track the asteroid. This will move the high-gain antenna away from Earth, and the spacecraft will not be able to communicate again until it has completed the encounter sequence and reoriented itself so that the high-gain antenna is pointing back toward Earth. Imagery and other science and engineering data from the flyby will then be downlinked over the next weeks.

NASA’s Lucy Spacecraft Adjusts Course for Asteroid Flyby in November

On May 9, NASA’s Lucy spacecraft carried out a trajectory correction maneuver to set the spacecraft on course for its close encounter with the small main belt asteroid Dinkinesh. The maneuver changed the velocity of the spacecraft by only about 7.7 mph (3.4 m/s).

Even though the spacecraft is currently travelling at approximately 43,000 mph (19.4 km/s), this small nudge is enough to move the spacecraft nearly 40,000 miles (65,000 km) closer to the asteroid during the planned encounter on Nov. 1, 2023. The spacecraft will fly a mere 265 miles (425 km) from the small, half-mile- (sub-km)-sized asteroid, while travelling at a relative speed of 10,000 mph (4.5 km/s).

The Lucy team will continue to monitor the spacecraft’s trajectory and will have further opportunities to fine tune the flight path if needed.

The Lucy team is also continuing to analyze the data collected from its spring instrument calibration campaign and make other preparations for the mission’s first asteroid encounter. This encounter will provide a valuable test of the spacecraft’s systems and procedures to make sure that everything operates as expected during the mission’s high-speed asteroid encounters.

NASA’s Lucy Mission Provides Update on Latest Deployment Efforts

UPDATE AS OF DECEMBER 15, 2022:  The Lucy team updated the spacecraft’s attitude controller on Dec. 6, resolving the previously observed vibration interaction between the controller and the solar array structural modes. As previously reported, the vibration was too small to pose a risk and the spacecraft continues to operate safely.

The team resumed solar array deployment activities, with an attempt on Dec. 13 that did not result in a latch. Since the estimated progress in deployment has decreased to minimal levels, the likelihood of a latch in the current thermal environment is very low. The team has therefore made the decision to suspend additional re-deployment activities through 2022. Future opportunities may be considered after careful analysis of the data and as the thermal environment changes.


Now that NASA’s Lucy spacecraft has successfully carried out its first Earth gravity assist, it has resumed high-data-rate communication with Earth. The Lucy spacecraft continues to operate safely and progress toward its mission goals.

Earlier this year, the team executed a series of commands to further deploy the spacecraft’s unlatched solar array. While deployment attempts were paused during a period of low-data-rate communications, the team continued to analyze the spacecraft’s telemetry and carry out ground-based tests. Based on these analyses, the team decided to continue attempts to further deploy the solar array. The likelihood of mission success in the current unlatched state is high, however the team expects that additional deployment—or potential latch—only improves confidence in performance without jeopardizing the spacecraft’s safety.

On Monday, Nov. 7, the spacecraft was instructed to point toward the Sun and operate the array deployment motors for a short period of time. As expected, the latest attempt deployed the wing incrementally forward, but it did not latch. The operation did succeed in providing the team with data to evaluate the array’s status and ascertain any changes since the last deployment attempt on June 16. During this analysis, the team identified that a small vibration occurred as the unlatched array interacted with the spacecraft’s attitude controller while the array was pointed toward Earth and at a cold temperature. The vibration did not occur as a result of the deployment activity itself. While this vibration is too small to pose a risk to the spacecraft in its current state, further array deployment attempts have been paused while the attitude controller is updated to resolve this issue. In the meantime, the spacecraft was reoriented so that the array is warmer, and the team found that the vibration is not present. The team will re-evaluate further redeployment activities once the updates to the controller are checked out on the spacecraft.

All of Lucy’s instruments functioned as expected during the gravity assist and provided an excellent test of the spacecraft’s systems and mission procedures. The team is continuing to analyze the images of the Earth and Moon collected during the flyby.


NASA, ULA Launch Lucy Mission to ‘Fossils’ of Planet Formation

A United Launch Alliance V 401 rocket, with NASA’s Lucy spacecraft atop, powers off the pad at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41 in Florida at 5:34 a.m. EDT on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021.
A United Launch Alliance V 401 rocket, with NASA’s Lucy spacecraft atop, powers off the pad at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41 in Florida at 5:34 a.m. EDT on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021. The launch was managed by NASA’s Launch Services Program, based at Kennedy Space Center. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

NASA’s Lucy mission, the agency’s first to Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids, launched at 5:34 a.m. EDT Saturday on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

Over the next 12 years, Lucy will fly by one main-belt asteroid and seven Trojan asteroids, making it the agency’s first single spacecraft mission in history to explore so many different asteroids. Lucy will investigate these “fossils” of planetary formation up close during its journey.

“Lucy embodies NASA’s enduring quest to push out into the cosmos for the sake of exploration and science, to better understand the universe and our place within it,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “I can’t wait to see what mysteries the mission uncovers!”

About an hour after launch, Lucy separated from the second stage of the ULA Atlas V 401 rocket. Its two massive solar arrays, each nearly 24 feet (7.3 meters) wide, successfully unfurled about 30 minutes later and began charging the spacecraft’s batteries to power its subsystems.

“Today’s launch marks a genuine full-circle moment for me as Lucy was the first mission I approved in 2017, just a few months after joining NASA,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s Headquarters in Washington. “A true mission of discovery, Lucy is rich with opportunity to learn more about these mysterious Trojan asteroids and better understand the formation and evolution of the early solar system.”

Lucy sent its first signal to Earth from its own antenna to NASA’s Deep Space Network at 6:40 a.m. EDT. The spacecraft is now traveling at roughly 67,000 mph (108,000 kph) on a trajectory that will orbit the Sun and bring it back toward Earth in October 2022 for a gravity assist.

Named for the fossilized skeleton of one of our earliest known hominin ancestors, the Lucy mission will allow scientists to explore two swarms of Trojan asteroids that share an orbit around the Sun with Jupiter. Scientific evidence indicates that Trojan asteroids are remnants of the material that formed giant planets. Studying them can reveal previously unknown information about their formation and our solar system’s evolution in the same way the fossilized skeleton of Lucy revolutionized our understanding of human evolution.

“We started working on the Lucy mission concept early in 2014, so this launch has been long in the making,” said Hal Levison, Lucy principal investigator, based out of the Boulder, Colorado, branch of Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), which is headquartered in San Antonio. “It will still be several years before we get to the first Trojan asteroid, but these objects are worth the wait and all the effort because of their immense scientific value. They are like diamonds in the sky.”

Lucy’s Trojan destinations are trapped near Jupiter’s Lagrange points – gravitationally stable locations in space associated with a planet’s orbit where smaller masses can be trapped. One swarm of Trojans is ahead of the gas giant planet, and another is behind it. The asteroids in Jupiter’s Trojan swarms are as far away from Jupiter as they are from the Sun.

The spacecraft’s first Earth gravity assist in 2022 will accelerate and direct Lucy’s trajectory beyond the orbit of Mars. The spacecraft will then swing back toward Earth for another gravity assist in 2024, which will propel Lucy toward the Donaldjohanson asteroid – located within the solar system’s main asteroid belt – in 2025.

Lucy will then journey toward its first Trojan asteroid encounter in the swarm ahead of Jupiter for a 2027 arrival. After completing its first four targeted flybys, the spacecraft will travel back to Earth for a third gravity boost in 2031, which will catapult it to the trailing swarm of Trojans for a 2033 encounter.

“Today we celebrate this incredible milestone and look forward to the new discoveries that Lucy will uncover,” said Donya Douglas-Bradshaw, Lucy project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

NASA Goddard provides overall mission management, systems engineering, plus safety and mission assurance. Lockheed Martin Space in Littleton, Colorado, built the spacecraft. Lucy is the 13th mission in NASA’s Discovery Program. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the Discovery Program for the agency.

For more information about NASA’s Lucy mission, visit:

This concludes today’s coverage on the blog of the Lucy countdown, launch and ascent into space.

Exploring the Trojan Asteroids

An artist illustration of the Lucy spacecraft.
An artist illustration of the Lucy spacecraft. Image credit: NASA

During its 12-year mission, NASA’s Lucy spacecraft will explore eight asteroids. It will explore more asteroids than any previous mission. On its way out to the Trojan asteroids, Lucy will fly by the main belt asteroid (52246) Donaldjohanson on April 20, 2025. There, Lucy will fly by five of these L4 Trojans: Eurybates and its satellite, Queta, on Aug. 27, 2027, Polymele on Sept. 15, 2027, Leucus on April 18, 2028, and Orus on Nov. 11, 2028.

The spacecraft’s orbit will then bring Lucy back to the vicinity of the Earth for another gravity assist, and will take it again out to the distance of Jupiter. Arriving on March 2, 2033, Lucy will fly by Patroclus and its near-twin binary companion Menoetius. While the flyby of this remarkable asteroid pair will be the expected finale of the mission. Lucy will remain on a stable orbit which will enable it to visit the Trojan swarms over and over again for many thousands, and possibly millions, of years.

Lucy’s Solar Arrays Deployed

Lucy’s twin solar arrays have deployed. Acquisition of the signal has been confirmed and health of the spacecraft is being checked. Lucy is now operating on its own power and begins its journey to reach the Trojan asteroids.

Lucy Separates from the Centaur Upper Stage

We have spacecraft separation! Cheers and applause can be heard from the launch teams as the Lucy spacecraft separates from the United Launch Alliance Atlas V Centaur upper stage to fly freely for the first time. In just a few minutes, the spacecraft’s solar arrays will deploy.