A tenacious solar array from NASA’s Lucy mission could produce enough to allow the mission to continue its asteroid-hunting mandate with few problems, NASA reports.
The agency said it had made “significant progress” in dealing with a solar array on the Lucy mission that failed to fully deploy after the spacecraft’s launch, which took place in October 2021. engineers have been fixing the problem for months.
Lucy has two near-circular solar panels that each measure 24 feet (7 meters) in diameter and are designed to fan out like a fan. The arrays are crucial to supplying power to the mission, but one of the arrays ran into a problem during deployment. A January update stated that at the time, the second array was deployed at just under 350 degrees, due to an issue with a lanyard.
Related: Discover the 8 asteroids NASA’s Lucy spacecraft will visit
On Thursday (June 28), however, NASA officials said Lucy’s team managed to open the array between 353 degrees and 357 degrees. (Total success would be 360 degrees.)
“The network is under a lot more strain, which gives it a lot more stabilization,” agency officials added in a blog post. (opens in a new tab). “The mission team is increasingly confident that the solar array will successfully meet the needs of the mission in its current state of voltage and stabilization.”
However, NASA must now suspend its efforts to help Lucy as the spacecraft moves to a location where it cannot easily receive commands from its humans on Earth.
“Due to thermal stresses caused by the relative positions of the Earth, spacecraft, and sun, the spacecraft will be unable to communicate with Earth through its high-gain antenna for several months,” NASA officials wrote. .
While engineers can stay in contact with Lucy via a low-gain antenna, this transmitter can process less data. Full communications are expected to resume in October, according to NASA. On October 16, Lucy will fly past Earth to accelerate her journey to nine Trojan asteroids orbiting the sun at the same distance as Jupiter; the spacecraft will also recover from partial failure at this time.
NASA may attempt to further deploy this delicate solar array while the spacecraft remains nearby “if deemed necessary,” officials wrote in the post.
Lucy successfully completed a course correction maneuver on June 21, NASA noted.
Although the spacecraft receives a lot of power when close to Earth, the arrays will need to be close to full deployment to generate enough electricity in orbit. Jupiter, where the sunlight is much weaker. The massive gas giant planet has an average orbital distance of 484 million miles (778 million kilometers) from the sun, about five times farther than Earth.
Lucy will be the first spacecraft to visit Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids, which orbit the sun in front and behind the planet. These small worlds may contain remnants of the early solar system and, in turn, provide information about the formation of our neighborhood.