Lucy continues to stabilize its solar array ahead of gravity assist

(ORDO NEWS) — In the first half of 2022, the NASA team continued to work on a solution to the problem with the solar array of the Lucy spacecraft, launched in October 2021.

Lucy is the first mission of its kind to visit multiple asteroids at Jupiter’s L4 and L5 Lagrange points. Lucy is currently on standby ahead of its first Earth flyby in October 2022.

Lucy’s sister mission, Psyche, experienced compatibility issues, delaying launch until no earlier than July 2023. Psyche is another first-of-its-kind mission to orbit the asteroid belt. Both missions operate under NASA’s Discovery program.

The Lucy mission began on October 16, 2021 after a flawless launch on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V 401 rocket. The craft would then deploy its dual solar arrays. One of them was fully deployed as planned, but the other deployed only partially, failing to gain a foothold.

The Lucy spacecraft was built by Lockheed Martin at its plant in Waterton, Colorado. At launch, the mass of the device was 1550 kg, width – 14.25 m, height – 7.2 m. The double round solar panels “Lucy” have a diameter of 7.3 meters and produce a maximum of 504 watts of energy at the farthest distance from the Sun.

After analyzing the data on the solar array, it was found that its capacity is about 95% of the planned one. Despite this problem, the solar array is generating enough power to complete Lucy’s primary mission, but there are still risks due to its underdeployed state.

One of the risks for a solar panel is the possibility of a motor burnout, which can damage the battery. In favor of the solar array is that the lanyard, which helps to deploy the solar array, keeps it stable.

Another benefit was a fallback maneuver, the Trajectory Correction Maneuver (TCM)-1, which was canceled due to the Atlas V’s precise trajectory.

Since launch, the spacecraft has been operating in cruise mode.

Following an attempt on June 16, 2022, the battery array is estimated to have rotated approximately 353-357 degrees from its planned 360-degree deployment. As the array has become more stable, the teams are confident in the array’s ability to meet the needs of the mission in its current state.

Further deployment attempts are currently on hold as Lucy enters a planned limited communications period.

At Lucy’s current position relative to the Earth and Sun, thermal constraints prevent the spacecraft from communicating with a high-gain antenna. Until the Earth flyby on October 16, Lucy will communicate using a low-gain antenna.

Once “Lucy” is out of the limited communication mode, the teams will have more options to wind the lanyard if deemed necessary.

After a flyby of the Earth in October 2022, “Lucy” will have several busy years ahead. In December 2024, Lucy will make its second flyby, sending the spacecraft on a journey to Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids. Lucy will visit seven asteroids over 12 years of historic mission.

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