A NASA rendering of the Lucy spacecraft before efforts were made to fully open one of its solar arrays in May and June.
Enlarge / A NASA rendering of the Lucy spacecraft earlier than efforts had been made to totally open one in every of its photo voltaic arrays in Might and June.


NASA confirmed this week that its Lucy mission to discover a sequence of asteroids has a clear invoice of well being because it approaches a key gravity help maneuver in October.

In a brand new replace, the area company mentioned Lucy’s photo voltaic arrays are “steady sufficient” for the $1 billion spacecraft to hold out its science operations over the approaching years because it visits a main-belt asteroid, 52246 Donaldjohanson, and subsequently flies by eight Trojan asteroids that share Jupiter’s orbit across the Solar.

The destiny of the Lucy mission had been in query for the reason that first hours after it launched on an Atlas V rocket final October when one in every of its two massive photo voltaic arrays failed to totally open and securely latch. Every of the arrays was meant to unfurl like a hand fan.

Scientists and engineers from the area company and its mission contractors, together with spacecraft builder Lockheed Martin and photo voltaic array designer Northrop Grumman, huddled inside hours of the launch. In these preliminary conferences, that they had “intense” conversations in regards to the destiny of the mission. On the time, the engineers weren’t sure why the photo voltaic array had did not open as a result of Lucy’s cameras can’t be pointed towards the photo voltaic arrays.

So throughout these early conferences, the scientists and engineers debated whether or not the photo voltaic array downside may very well be fastened and whether or not the mission may full its formidable scientific observations with out two totally operational photo voltaic arrays. The partially closed array was producing about 90 % of its anticipated energy.

Ultimately, after months of study, testing, and troubleshooting, the workforce realized that the lanyard designed to tug the photo voltaic array open had gotten jammed. Lucy is provided with each a main and backup motor to deploy the photo voltaic arrays, however they weren’t designed to be fired in tandem. This spring, the engineers determined the perfect course was to fireplace each the first and backup deployment motors for the photo voltaic array concurrently in hopes that this extra power would unstick the lanyard.

So from Might 6 to June 16, on seven totally different events, engineers commanded the deployment motors to energy on, and these efforts helped. Out of a full 360 levels, NASA says the photo voltaic array is now between 353 and 357 levels open. And whereas it’s not totally latched, it’s now below ample pressure to function as wanted through the mission.

With the photo voltaic array problem apparently solved, mission operators can flip their focus to an Earth flyby in October when Lucy will decide up a gravity help—the primary of three en path to the principle asteroid belt. As a part of this fuel-efficient trajectory, Lucy will fly by its first goal in April 2025, the main-belt asteroid named after Donald Johanson, the American anthropologist who co-discovered the famed “Lucy” fossil in 1974. The fossil, of a feminine hominin species that lived about 3.2 million years in the past, supported the evolutionary concept that bipedalism preceded a rise in mind dimension.

The Lucy asteroid mission, in flip, takes its title from the famed fossil. By subsequently visiting eight Trojan asteroids, scientists count on to glean details about the constructing blocks of the Photo voltaic System and higher perceive the character of its planets at the moment.

No probe has flown by these smallish Trojan asteroids, that are clustered at steady Lagrange factors trailing and forward of Jupiter’s orbit 5.2 astronomical models from the Solar. The asteroids are largely darkish however could also be lined with tholins, that are natural compounds that might present uncooked supplies for the essential chemical substances of life.

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