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NASA investigating possible issue with Lucy spacecraft hours after launch

NASA says its engineers are currently investigating a potential issue with its Lucy spacecraft where one of its solar arrays may have failed to lock into place.

Lucy launched aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida on Saturday, October 16.

The spacecraft is heading toward Jupiter to study the Trojan asteroids in an ambitious mission that scientists hope will tell us more about the formation of our solar system billions of years ago.

But the space agency has revealed that when Lucy deployed its 24-feet-wide solar arrays 90 minutes after launch and 30 minutes after separating from the rocket’s second stage, one of them may have failed to lock into place.

In a message posted on its website on Sunday, October 17, NASA said that while Lucy appears to be “operating well and is stable … indications are that the second array may not be fully latched.” Both arrays are, however, producing power at the present time.

It said that in the current spacecraft attitude (the orientation of the spacecraft in space), Lucy can continue to function “with no threat to its health and safety.”

NASA confirmed that its team is now “analyzing spacecraft data to understand the situation and determine next steps to achieve full deployment of the solar array.” It declined to describe the potential consequences if it fails to secure the second array.

It’s clearly a concerning situation, but Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science, sounded a positive note after hearing the news, tweeting: “This team has overcome many challenges already and I am confident they will prevail here as well.”

The spacecraft is currently traveling at 67,000 mph on a trajectory that should see it orbit the sun and return it toward Earth in October next year for a gravity assist to send it on to its destination.

Planning for the Lucy mission started in 2014. Assuming it overcomes the current issue, it will be NASA’s first single-spacecraft mission to explore so many different asteroids — eight in all.

Discussing the challenging 12-year endeavor, the Lucy mission’s principal investigator, Hal Levison of the Southwest Research Institute, said recently: “It will still be several years before we get to the first Trojan asteroid, but these objects are worth the wait and all the effort because of their immense scientific value. They are like diamonds in the sky.”

We’ll be sure to provide an update just as soon as NASA releases more information about the current anomaly.

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