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Lucy Back on Its Solar-Powered Journey to Jupiter Trojans After NASA Team Troubleshoots Spacecraft

In October 2021, NASA’s Lucy spacecraft was efficiently launched. However, simply hours into Lucy’s 12-year journey, the first-ever Trojan asteroids mission met an sudden problem. This resulted in a bunch of engineers gathering in Florida. Data confirmed that one in every of Lucy’s photo voltaic arrays, which is meant to unfold like a hand fan and energy the spacecraft’s methods, hadn’t totally expanded and locked. To troubleshoot the difficulty, groups from NASA and Lucy mission companions promptly gathered. Team members from Lockheed Martin’s Mission Support Area exterior of Denver, who had been involved with the spacecraft immediately, had been additionally on the telephone.

There had been lots of unanswered points, and the stakes had been excessive as a result of Lucy was travelling rapidly via area. Soon, NASA assembled Lucy’s anomaly response workforce. Together, the workforce set out to examine the issue to determine its root trigger and set up the most effective plan of action. The workforce was taking their time as a result of the spacecraft was in any other case in glorious situation.

The workforce operated thrusters on the spacecraft and monitored how these forces precipitated the photo voltaic array to shake so as to assess Lucy’s photo voltaic array association in actual time. They then used the knowledge to decide how inflexible Lucy’s array was by feeding it into a selected mannequin of the array’s motor meeting, which assisted in figuring out the issue’s root trigger.

They lastly recognized the underlying difficulty — a lanyard supposed to open Lucy’s monumental photo voltaic array was most likely tousled on its bobbin-like spool. Lucy’s workforce then determined on two potential instructions for the longer term after months of extra testing and brainstorming.

In one, they might run the array’s backup deployment motor concurrently with its major motor to exert extra power on the lanyard. The jammed lanyard ought to have the opportunity to wind in additional and interact the latching mechanism of the array with the assistance of the 2 motors.

The second possibility was to use the array because it was, virtually totally deployed and producing greater than 90 % of its anticipated energy.

Barry Noakes, Lockheed Martin’s chief engineer for deep area exploration, mentioned that every method had some aspect of danger to meet the baseline science aims. Identifying preventive procedures to lower danger in both case was a good portion of the hassle of the groups.

The group created situations for each options and examined them. Additionally, they created specialised, extremely correct software program to mannequin Lucy in area and estimate any potential repercussions a redeployment effort would have on the spacecraft.

NASA opted to proceed with the primary possibility, a multi-step try to totally reinstall the photo voltaic array, after months of calculations and testing. The workforce directed the spacecraft to run each the first and backup photo voltaic array deployment motors seven instances in May and June. The operation was profitable in drawing the lanyard in and increasing and tightening the array.

Watch this video to understand how the workforce laboured diligently to resolve the scenario and ship Lucy again on its solar-powered voyage:

The subsequent vital mission milestone, an Earth-gravity help in October 2022, can be achieved by the spacecraft when it’s prepared and in a position. In 2025, Lucy is anticipated to attain its first asteroid goal.