NASA’s sophisticated navigation plan to study Trojan asteroids

NASA’s sophisticated navigation plan to study Trojan asteroids

In 2021, NASA will take on the Lucy mission, which for the first time explores Jupiter's Trojan astroids. With an age of billions of years, these asteroids serve as the time capsule of the earliest days of the solar system. To get there, you will need some of the most difficult and unusual flights in the history of the space agency.

The main problem in planning a mission is that the solar system is in motion. Usually, scientists can chart a clear route with a large planetary body, like Mars or the Moon. But Trojan asteroids are two separate clouds, so the spacecraft will have to overcome many gravitational effects. If it is wrong to calculate, then one of the objects risks to drag the spacecraft to its orbit.

For the Lucy mission there are two methods of navigation. You can burn a huge amount of fuel or zigzag your way, trying to determine more auxiliary goals that can line up in the most perfect line.

NASA’s sophisticated navigation plan to study Trojan asteroids

This is the difficulty of the Lucy route. Green dots - Trojan asteroids. The inner dots represent the inner planets, and the orange dots represent Jupiter. As Lucy moves through the Solar System, most of the course corrections are used as gravity assistants. NASA is used to relying on space objects for long missions. Such maneuvers allowed Voyager 2 to visit Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

When the spacecraft enters the gravitational well of the asteroid, it will accelerate, acquiring kinetic energy and losing potential. Additional kinetic energy will then go on moving in a new direction. However, getting closer to asteroids is a difficult task. To do this, you have to use optical navigation. To do this, use the communication channel and photos from onboard cameras Lucy. Thanks to this team on Earth will know the location, direction and speed of the ship.

The transition to the next point in space depends on the correctness of each maneuver, therefore it is important to calculate everything and use the minimum fuel. The first maneuver will be slow, but the second will be conducted at a speed of 898 m / s. The mission will end in 2033.

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