NASA has a plan to fix Lucy spacecraft’s solar array problem

NASA’s Lucy spacecraft has been touring via house on its technique to go to the Trojan asteroids since its launch in October final yr, however the workforce has needed to take care of an surprising difficulty with its deployment.

The issue is with certainly one of Lucy’s two photo voltaic arrays. These wanted to be folded up for launch so the spacecraft might match inside its launch automobile, then they deployed as soon as Lucy reached house. The arrays deployed by unfolding, fan-like, into two distinctive spherical shapes which ought to then have been latched into place.

Artist’s illustration of the Lucy concept.
Artist’s illustration of the Lucy mission. Southwest Analysis Institute

However one photo voltaic array didn’t latch accurately after deployment on October 17, 2021. The array was nearly fully deployed and was nonetheless able to offering photo voltaic vitality to the spacecraft, but it surely was not secured in place because it ought to have been. The mission workforce opted to proceed with the craft getting into cruise mode as deliberate as a result of the mixed two arrays have been producing sufficient energy for the mission to go forward.

Now, although, NASA needs to attempt to lock the array in place as soon as once more. Engineers on the bottom have been performing exams and information from the spacecraft and have concluded that the array in query is open to 345 out of 360 levels and remains to be producing sufficient energy. However there are issues that if and when the spacecraft fires its foremost engine, the unlocked photo voltaic array may very well be broken.

In a latest replace, NASA shared that on Monday, April 18, the workforce determined to go forward with attempting to repair the array into its correct place. To do this, they are going to work with the motor which controls the array deployment. “After launch, the arrays have been opened by a small motor that reels in a lanyard connected to each ends of the folded photo voltaic array,” NASA writes. “The workforce estimates that 20 to 40 inches of this lanyard (out of roughly 290 inches complete) stays to be retracted for the open array to latch.”

The array has each a major and a backup motor for this deployment, so engineers will attempt to use each of those motors collectively to drag the lanyard via and permit the array to latch into place. Testing means that the extra torque from utilizing each motors could also be sufficient to tug the lanyard out of its snag.

Enacting this plan would require two steps. Step one, scheduled to start within the week of Might 9, is to drag the lanyard taut, which can enable the workforce to test that the spacecraft is in the identical situation because the testing on the bottom and also will assist to strengthen the array. The second step, scheduled for a month after the 1st step if the whole lot goes effectively, will likely be to make use of the 2 motors to attempt to pull the array into place.

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