NASA suffers with Lucy in space: it cannot deploy its solar panels

NASA notes that Lucy can still work on her study of asteroids because of the extra rigidity of the probe.


NASA ‘s Lucy mission control team has failed to get the huge solar arrays that power it to lock into its extended position after four deployment maneuvers.  

Even if the panels don’t engage, the additional rigidity may be enough to continue the mission as planned, the agency said in a statement.

The Lucy Problem Chronology

This spacecraft blasted off on October 16, 2021 on a 12-year prime mission to explore seven different asteroids: one main-belt asteroid and six Trojan asteroids in the vicinity of Jupiter.

The ship is equipped with large solar panels that, once connected and fully extended, could cover a five-story building. It needs them as it will operate farther from the Sun than any previous solar-powered space mission.

On May 9, the team ordered the spacecraft to activate the solar array deployment motor , using the primary and backup motors simultaneously to generate more torque, i.e. a stronger pull. The motor worked as expected, further winding the cord that opens the solar panel. After running the engine for a series of short intervals to prevent overheating, the team paused to analyze the results.

Spacecraft data showed that the deployment was proceeding similarly to how it did during engineering tests on the ground, allowing the team to advance to the second stage. Data analysis showed that one cord remained to be retracted. The team sent the same commands again on May 12. Although this series of commands did not fully open the solar panel, it did advance the deployment enough to increase the voltage that stabilizes the panels as expected.

On May 26, the spacecraft was again ordered to deploy the solar panel. As in the previous two cases, the motors were operated simultaneously for short periods of time to prevent overheating. The team then analyzed activity data, which indicated that the panel continued to open. The team repeated the deployment command sequence for a fourth time on June 2. Although the panels have not yet been fixed in their extended position, data indicates that they continued to unfold and tighten throughout the event.

The team has more opportunities to repeat these deployment commands. While there is no guarantee that further attempts will secure the panels, there are strong indications that the process is putting more stress on the panels, further stabilizing them. Even if the panels fail to engage, the additional rigidity may be enough to continue the mission as planned. (EuropePress)