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How engineers fixed Lucy spacecraft’s solar array issue

NASA’s Lucy spacecraft has had a troubled begin to its mission, with a deployment issue affecting its solar energy system — however happily, engineers had been in a position to handle the issue. 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 area.

Lucy launched in October 2021, with its two round solar arrays folded as much as match contained in the rocket fairing. As soon as in area shortly after launch, Lucy was to deploy the 2 arrays to gather the solar power which might energy the craft on its lengthy journey to the Trojan asteroids, positioned within the orbit of Jupiter. One array deployed as anticipated, nevertheless, the opposite didn’t totally deploy. The arrays had been speculated to unfurl just like the palms 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. Nevertheless, when not latched into place the array was not beneath pressure which made it flimsy, and there have been considerations 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), set to work to determine what they may do.

“We’ve got an extremely gifted staff, however it was necessary to provide them time to determine what occurred and the way to transfer ahead,” stated Hal Levison, Lucy’s principal investigator from SwRI, in a assertion. “Luckily, the spacecraft was the place it was speculated 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 totally opening. They confronted a alternative: Go away the craft because it was, at present wholesome however probably risking issues sooner or later, or use further pressure from a backup motor to pull extra firmly on the lanyard.

“Every path carried some ingredient of danger to attain the baseline science targets,” stated Barry Noakes, Lockheed Martin’s deep area exploration chief engineer. “An enormous a part of our effort was figuring out proactive actions that mitigate danger in both state of affairs.”

Having modeled out the dangers of every choice utilizing take a look at footage and a duplicate of the craft right here on Earth, the staff determined to aim to repair the issue. It took a number of periods of tweaking and tugging on the lanyard by Might and June this yr, however ultimately, the array was virtually fully deployed. It nonetheless isn’t latched into place, however 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.

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