Efforts to fully deploy Lucy’s solar array continue

The Lucy project is a NASA mission that will examine the Trojans, a group of asteroids near Jupiter. These ancient space rocks may offer vital clues to the formation of the solar system and, possibly, the genesis of life on Earth. Lucy will travel near one main-belt asteroid and seven Trojans during its 12-year core mission. Still, no space mission in existence has launched to as many separate destinations in autonomous orbits around the Sun.

Leaders of NASA’s Lucy asteroid mission are growing increasingly convinced that the project can proceed as intended even if continuing efforts to completely deploy and fasten a solar array fail. Engineers have been analyzing one of 2 circular solar arrays which did not fully release and latch into place following the spacecraft’s release in October 2021 for months. They came to the conclusion that a lanyard intended to draw open the solar array had lost tension during the deployment procedure, leading the lanyard to loop around the motor shaft.

On May 9, controllers gave commands to operate both the backup and primary motors for the solar array dispatch process at the same time, thinking that a stronger pull would be enough to reestablish tension in the lanyard as well as allow the array to resume deployment. Since then, the spaceship has used both motors three times.

“That’s allowing us to make tremendous progress toward latching,” Hal Levison, Lucy’s principal investigator at the Southwest Research Institute, stated in a presentation to NASA’s Small Bodies Assessment Group on June 8. “We’re seeing a lot of strain in the array.”

Even though the array hasn’t locked into place, he believes the tensioning is a good sign. “It makes it plausible that, even if we don’t get the thing latched, we’ll be capable of flying the mission as-is,” he said, noting that the array is providing more than 90% of its expected power in its current state.

The project is gearing up for an Earth gravity-aid flyby in October, once the spacecraft will pass around 350 kilometers over the Earth. Following a second Earth flyby in 2024, Lucy will pass an asteroid in the main belt in 2025, followed by numerous Trojan asteroids in a cluster guiding Jupiter in orbit around the sun in the years 2027 and 2028. A 3rd Earth flyby in the year 2030 will pave the way for collisions with two Trojan asteroids trailing Jupiter in 2033.

Lucy completed a trajectory adjustment maneuver on June 7 to prepare for the October flyby, NASA reported in a blog post on June 8. This is the first of numerous maneuvers scheduled before the October flyby.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.