NASA’s Lucy spacecraft, en route from Earth to the Trojan Asteroids, has had problems with one of its two large solar panels not snapping into place after launch. NASA has been working on the problem for several months and the agency is now reporting “significant progress” in deploying the solar panel.
The problem with Lucy has been discovered shortly after launch in October last year. The spacecraft is equipped with two large circular solar panels that harvest energy from the sun to power the system. The arrays were folded for launch, but had to be deployed once the craft was in space, for which they unfolded in a bell-like fashion. One of the arrays deployed without any problems as planned. But the other array was only partially deployed and didn’t click into place. While the spacecraft was getting plenty of power even with the array partially deployed, the concern was that when the spacecraft fired its thrusters to perform maneuvers, it would strain the array — which was not fully cocked — and could potentially have broken it.
NASA has announced that it is a plan to tackle this problem in April of this year, by tightening the string with which the array was deployed. There are two motors driving this cord, a primary and a backup, and it was decided to run both motors together to produce more torque and to pull more firmly on the cord, hopefully further holding the array in place. Pull. This process took different rounds until May and Juneeach time pulling the array a little farther into place, although it was still not locked.
utilities, NASA reports that the array is almost fully deployed and has expanded to between 353 degrees and 357 degrees open (out of 360 degrees in total). While it’s still not locked in place, the array is now under more stress, making it more stable and able to withstand the forces of spacecraft maneuvers. NASA says the team is “increasingly confident” that Lucy will be able to work as planned with its array open to this extent.
The NASA team plans to continue working on deploying the array as needed, but this will have to wait several months as the spacecraft is about to enter a portion of its flight where only limited communications are possible.
“Due to thermal constraints caused by the relative positions of the Earth, the spacecraft and the Sun, the spacecraft will not be able to communicate with Earth through its high-gain antenna for several months,” NASA writes. They won’t be completely out of touch, though, as Lucy will be able to communicate using his low-gain antenna. This blackout is scheduled to end on October 16, and the team can then consider whether further actions on the array are needed.