Just hours into its 12-year journey to Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids, the Lucy spacecraft ran into a problem. One of its solar panels refused to fully open, and mission controllers have been working on the problem ever since. There is some good news to report though, as the team seems to have made a breakthrough.
Since Lucy’s launch in October 2021, NASA engineers were attempt to fully open and lock the spaceship’s stubborn solar panel. After seven tries, the solar panel is now between 353 degrees and 357 degrees open 360 degrees. It is always not a perfect circle, but NASA says this configuration is good enough for Lucy to continue her mission.
Lucy is charged with an unprecedented mission to explore trojan asteroids, two groups of rocky bodies that lead and follow Jupiter in orbit around the Sun. In order to survive her long journey through space, Lucy is equipped with two massive solar panels on each side, each spanning 22 feet wide (7 meters). The berries were stowed during Lucy’s first trip to space aboard an Atlas V rocket and designed to later deploy as a pair of massive hand fans. During deployment, however, one of the solar panels jammed at 347 degrees. Ground controllers feared the array would be further damaged by the time the spacecraft fired up its main engine.
Lucy’s Anomaly Response Team met within hours of the malfunction, working together to come up with a plan. “We have an incredibly talented team, but it was important to give them time to figure out what happened and how to move forward,” said Hal Levison, principal investigator of Lucy at the Southwest Research Institute, in a communicated. statement. “Fortunately, the spacecraft was where it was supposed to be, functioning nominally, and…The most important-sure. We had time.
The team brainstormed together for months and finally proposed two possible solutions: Either maintain the network at 347 degrees or start pulling the mains cord using the spaceship’s emergency engine. But team members first had to assess the risks associated with both options. and proceed accordingly. They built a replica of the backup engine and tested the replica beyond its ground limit to see how it would handle deployment efforts in space.
After months of simulations, NASA decided it would attempt to fully deploying Lucy’s networks through a series of complex maneuvers and commands sent to the spacecraft while it was 60 million miles (96 million kilometers) from Earth.
On May 9, Mission Control ordered Lucy to deploy the array, running her main and backup engines simultaneously for a series of short intervals to prevent overheating. The team then paused to analyze the data before a second attempt on May 12, when the same commands were transmitted Again. After seven attempts to pull the lanyard for the months May and June, Lucy’s solar panel is now open between 353 degrees and 357 degrees. “Although the array is not completely locked down, it is under much more stress, making it stable enough for the spacecraft to perform as needed for mission operations,” NASA wrote in a statement.
Lucy is preparing for her first gravity assist in October 2022, where she will fly over Earth in order to use the planet’s gravity to pull the spacecraft, altering its orbital path beyond Mars’ orbit. We have your back, Lucy. Even if your painting is a few degrees away.
After: Debris from an out-of-control Chinese rocket crashed near populated areas.