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13 October 2018

Important eventsBack

The American Galileo spacecraft visits an asteroid29.10.1991

Wikipedia (21 Oct 2013, 15:54)

951 Gaspra /ˈɡæsprə/ is an S-type asteroid that orbits very close to the inner edge of the asteroid belt. Gaspra was the first asteroid ever to be closely approached when it was visited by the Galileo spacecraft, which flew by on its way to Jupiter on 29 October 1991.


Gaspra was discovered by Russian astronomer G. N. Neujmin in 1916. Neujmin named it after Gaspra, a Black Sea retreat that was visited by his contemporaries, such as Gorky and Tolstoy.

Galileo flew by Gaspra on 29 October 1991, passing within 1,600 kilometers at a relative speed of about 8 kilometers per second (18,000 mph). 57 images were returned to Earth, the closest taken from a distance of 5300 km. The best images have a resolution of about 54 meters/pixel. The area around the southern pole was not seen during the flyby, but the remaining 80% of the asteroid was imaged.

Because Gaspra's position was only known to within about 200 km before the encounter, and the camera's field of view was only about 5° across, Galileo would not know where to point to capture images of the asteroid once it was closer than 70,000 km. This would render the encounter not very interesting scientifically. To overcome this problem, a pioneering optical navigation campaign was implemented by the Galileo spacecraft team to reduce the uncertainty of Gaspra's position using images captured during the approach to Gaspra. This was spectacularly successful and allowed the spacecraft to obtain images from as close as 5300 km. At this closest range, the pointing was still not known quite accurately enough, but the camera actually took a 51 image mosaic so as to capture Gaspra on at least one image. Similar optical navigation techniques have been used on all spacecraft flybys of asteroids since.

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