Science

Lucy glows a bit because the photo voltaic arrays work

A photo of NASA's Lucy spacecraft before attempts to fully expose its solar array in May and June.
Zoom in / A photograph of NASA’s Lucy spacecraft earlier than makes an attempt to completely expose its photo voltaic array in Might and June.

NASA

NASA confirmed this week that the Lucy mission to check a collection of asteroids has a clear invoice of well being because it approaches a significant gravity maneuver in October.

In a brand new replace, the house company stated Lucy’s photo voltaic array, a $1 billion spacecraft, is “secure sufficient” to hold out science operations for years to come back because it arrives on the primary asteroid 52246 Donald Johansson after which flies by with eight Trojans. Asteroids that share Jupiter’s orbit across the Solar.

The destiny of the Lucy mission has been in query for the reason that first hours of its launch final October on an Atlas V rocket, when certainly one of its two giant photo voltaic arrays failed to completely deploy and securely connect. Every of the arrays is designed to open like a hand fan.

Scientists and engineers from the house company and its mission contractors, together with spacecraft builder Lockheed Martin and photo voltaic array designer Northrop Grumman, gathered inside hours of launch. In these first conferences, that they had “offended” discussions in regards to the destiny of the mission. On the time, engineers weren’t certain why the photo voltaic array did not open, as Lucy’s cameras could not be pointed on the photo voltaic array.

So in these early conferences, scientists and engineers debated whether or not the photo voltaic array drawback may very well be solved and whether or not the mission may full its bold science observations with out two absolutely operational photo voltaic arrays. The partially closed array was working at about 90 p.c of anticipated capability.

Lastly, after months of study, testing, and troubleshooting, the staff realized that the strap designed to open the photo voltaic array was caught. Lucy is provided with a major and backup motor to accommodate the photo voltaic arrays, however they don’t seem to be designed to fireplace in tandem. This spring, engineers determined to activate the photo voltaic array’s major and backup deployment motors on the similar time, hoping that further energy would clear up the issue.

Thus, seven occasions from Might 6 to June 16, the engineers ordered the deployment engines to be turned on, and these actions helped. From a full 360 levels, NASA experiences that the photo voltaic array is now 353 and 357 levels huge. Though it’s not absolutely fastened, it’s now beneath ample rigidity to function when wanted throughout a mission.

As soon as the photo voltaic array challenge is resolved, mission operators can deal with Lucy’s gravity flyby in October – the primary of three en path to the principle asteroid belt. As a part of this fuel-efficient trajectory, Lucy will fly by its first goal in April 2025, an asteroid named after American anthropologist Donald Johanson, who found the well-known “Lucy” fossil in 1974. A feminine hominin species that lived about 3.2 million years in the past supported the evolutionary concept that bipedalism preceded a rise in mind measurement.

Asteroid Lucy’s mission, in flip, takes its title from the well-known fossil. By then visiting the eight Trojan asteroids, scientists hope to assemble details about the constructing blocks of the Photo voltaic System and higher perceive the character of its planets at present.

No probes have been flown by these small Trojan asteroids, that are clustered on the Lagrange fastened factors and orbit Jupiter 5.2 AU forward of the Solar. Asteroids are largely darkish however could also be coated in tholins, natural compounds that would present the uncooked supplies for all times’s primary chemical substances.

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