The Lucy spacecraft will break records if it is planned to visit nine asteroids during its 12-year mission to the Trojan asteroids, which orbit the Sun at the same distance as Jupiter. NASA’s Lucy was not originally expected to see any asteroids up close until 2025, when she will fly by Donaldjohanson (asteroid number 52246) in the main asteroid belt.
However, Lucy’s team identified a small as-yet-unnamed asteroid near the inner edge of the main belt, named 1999 VD57 (catalogue number 152830), as a possible new and useful target for the Lucy spacecraft.
On November 1, 2023, Lucy will be able to take a close look at 1999 VD57.
This asteroid had not previously been identified as a target because it is extremely small. In fact, 1999 VD57, estimated to be just 700 meters in size, will be the smallest main belt asteroid visited by spacecraft to date. Its size is much closer to that of the near-Earth asteroids visited by NASA’s recent OSIRIS-REx and DART missions than it is to previously visited main-belt asteroids.
The mission team will have Lucy execute a series of maneuvers beginning in early May 2023 to position the spacecraft on a trajectory that will allow it to pass within only about 450 kilometers of 1999 VD57.
When NASA’s Lucy spacecraft passes through the inner edge of the main asteroid belt in fall 2023, it will pass the small asteroid 1999 VD57. This graphic shows the solar system seen “from above,” and indicates the spacecraft’s trajectory and position shortly before the November 1 encounter. (Image: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)
Lucy’s trajectory, as originally designed, would have taken her to pass within 65,000 kilometers of that asteroid. (Fountain: NCYT by Amazings)