(NASA) – NASA’s Lucy mission team has decided to suspend future solar array deployment activities.
The team determined that operating the mission with the solar array currently unlatched carries an acceptable level of risk and that further deployment activities are unlikely to be beneficial at this time.
The spacecraft continues to move forward along its planned trajectory.
Shortly after launch in October 2021, the mission team discovered that one of Lucy’s two solar arrays was not properly unrolled and latched.
A series of activities in 2022 succeeded in deploying the array further, putting it in a taut state, but the latch was released.
Using engineering models calibrated with spacecraft data, the team estimates that the solar array is more than 98% deployed and strong enough to withstand the stresses of Lucy’s 12-year mission. increase.
The team’s confidence in the solar array’s stability was confirmed by its operation during an Earth proximity flyby on October 16, 2022. During this time, the spacecraft flew within 243 miles (392 km) of Earth and passed through Earth’s upper atmosphere.
The solar array is producing the expected levels of power in the current solar range and is expected to have sufficient capacity to perform baseline missions with margin.
The team chose to pause deployment trials after the December 13, 2022 trial, which resulted in only minor movement of the solar array. Ground tests have shown that deployment attempts are most effective when the spacecraft is warmer and closer to the Sun.
The spacecraft is currently 123 million miles (197 million km) from the Sun (1.3 times the distance from the Sun to Earth) and is moving away at 20,000 miles per hour (35,000 km/h), so the team anticipates that no further deployment attempts will be made. Advantageous at present.
Due to the energy boost the spacecraft received during Earth Gravity Assist last October, the spacecraft is now in orbit more than 315 million miles (500 million km) from the Sun before receiving its second Earth Gravity Assist. return to earth for December 12, 2024.
Over the next year and a half, the team will continue to collect data on the solar array’s behavior during flight.
Most importantly, we will observe how the array behaves when the spacecraft fires up its main engines for the first time in February 2024.
As the spacecraft warms up during its near-Earth approach in the fall of 2024, the team will reassess whether additional steps are necessary to mitigate risk.