NASA confirmed this week that Lucy’s mission to explore a series of asteroids was in clean health as it approached its main gravity-assist maneuver in October.
In a new update, the space agency says the Lucy Solar Arrays is “stable enough” for the $1 billion spacecraft to carry out its science tasks over the next few years as it visits the main-belt asteroid, 52246 Donald Johansson. does, and then takes off with eight. Trojan asteroids that share Jupiter. revolves around the Sun.
The fate of Lucy’s mission has been in question since the early hours of the morning after its launch aboard an Atlas V rocket last October, when a massive solar array of itss failed to unlock and lock securely. Each array is meant to open like a hand fan.
Scientists and engineers from the space agency and its mission contractors, including spacecraft manufacturer Lockheed Martin and solar array designer Northrop Grumman, gathered within hours of launch. In those early meetings, they held “intense” conversations about the fate of the mission. At the time, engineers were not sure why the opening of the solar array failed because Lucy’s camera could not be pointed at the solar array.
So during that initial meeting, scientists and engineers debated whether the solar array problem could be fixed and whether the mission could accomplish its ambitious science observations without two fully functioning solar arrays. The partially closed group generates about 90 percent of the expected power.
Finally, after months of analysis, testing, and troubleshooting, the team realized that the wires designed to open the solar panels had jammed. Lucy is equipped with a base engine and a backup engine for deployment of the solar array, but they are not designed to be launched simultaneously. This spring, engineers decided the best course of action was to fire both the main deployment drive and the solar array backup together in the hope that this extra power would isolate the wiring.
Therefore, on seven separate occasions, from 6 May to 16 June, engineers ordered the engine deployment to begin, and this effort helped. From a full 360 degrees, NASA says the Sun’s array is now open between 353 and 357 degrees. And while it hasn’t completely shut down, it is now under enough pressure to operate as needed during the mission.
With the solar array problem solved, mission operators can shift their focus to a near-Earth flyby in October, when Lucy will be taking a gravity assist — the first of three en route to the main asteroid belt. As part of this fuel efficiency path, Lucy will fly to its first target in April 2025, a large asteroid belt named after American anthropologist Donald Johansson, who co-discovered the famous “Lucy” fossil in 1974. One of the female species of the living hominin about 3.2 million years ago, supports the evolutionary idea that walking on two legs preceded an increase in brain size.
The asteroid Lucy mission, in turn, takes its name from the famous fossil. By visiting eight Trojan asteroids later, scientists hope to gather information about the building blocks of the Solar System and better understand the nature of today’s planets.
No probes have been detected by this small Trojan asteroid, which clusters far behind Jupiter’s orbit about 5.2 astronomical units from the Sun and at a stable Lagrangian point. Asteroids are mostly dark in color but may be covered with tholin, an organic compound that may provide the raw material for chemicals needed for life.