NASA’s Lucy spacecraft has had a troubled begin to its mission, with a deployment situation affecting its solar energy system — however luckily, engineers have been capable of deal with the difficulty. Now, NASA has shared extra info on how members of the Lucy staff labored to troubleshoot and repair the issue from Earth and the craft raced by means of house.
Lucy launched in October 2021, with its two round photo voltaic arrays folded as much as match contained in the rocket fairing. As soon as in house shortly after launch, Lucy was to deploy the 2 arrays to gather the photo voltaic vitality which might energy the craft on its lengthy journey to the Trojan asteroids, situated within the orbit of Jupiter. One array deployed as anticipated, nevertheless, the opposite didn’t absolutely deploy. The arrays have been presupposed to unfurl just like the fingers of a clock and latch into place, however one deployed solely partway and didn’t latch.
The excellent news was that the craft was producing sufficient energy to maintain itself even with the array solely partly deployed. Nonetheless, when not latched into place the array was not underneath pressure which made it flimsy, and there have been issues that the forces of future maneuvering might shake or harm the array. The Lucy staff, consisting of engineers and scientists from NASA, Lockheed Martian, Northrop Grumman, and the Southwest Analysis Institute (SwRI), started working to determine what they might do.
“We’ve an extremely proficient staff, nevertheless it was essential to provide them time to determine what occurred and the right way to transfer ahead,” mentioned Hal Levison, Lucy’s principal investigator from SwRI, in a statement. “Thankfully, the spacecraft was the place it was presupposed to be, functioning nominally, and – most significantly – secure. We had time.”
The staff found that the issue had been brought on by a lanyard, which was tugged by a motor to tug the array into its spherical form. One thing appeared to have snagged the lanyard and prevented the array from absolutely opening. They confronted a selection: Go away the craft because it was, at present wholesome however probably risking issues sooner or later, or use additional drive from a backup motor to pull more firmly on the lanyard.
“Every path carried some component of danger to realize the baseline science targets,” mentioned Barry Noakes, Lockheed Martin’s deep house exploration chief engineer. “An enormous a part of our effort was figuring out proactive actions that mitigate danger in both situation.”
Having modeled out the dangers of every choice utilizing check footage and a duplicate of the craft right here on Earth, the staff determined to try to repair the difficulty. It took several sessions of tweaking and tugging on the lanyard by means of Might and June this yr, however finally, the array was almost completely deployed. It nonetheless isn’t latched into place, nevertheless it has deployed to between 353 and 357 levels of 360 levels, which is secure sufficient for the craft to carry out its mission.
Lucy now continues its lengthy journey, scheduled to reach on the Trojans in 2027.