Skip to main content

Still no joy for Lucy’s stuck solar array, NASA is giving up for now

NASA has announced it will not be making any further attempts to latch the solar array of its Lucy spacecraft, at least for now. Launched in October 2021 on a mission to visit the Trojan asteroids in the orbit of Jupiter, Lucy had problems deploying one of its two circular arrays, and various attempts to address the issue over the past year have not managed to fix the problem entirely. However, NASA says that the spacecraft should be able to operate on its mission as planned.

Illustration of NASA’s Lucy spacecraft making a flyby of Earth. NASA

The two arrays needed to be folded up while the spacecraft was launched, then deployed in a clock-like manner once the vehicle was in space. One of the arrays deployed as planned, but the other one failed to unfurl all of the way, and so did not latch into place. Engineers managed to deploy the array most of the way by using two motors to tug hard on the lanyard that pulled the array into place. That got the array deployed to between 353 and 357 degrees open out of a total of 360 degrees.

However, the team had to pause its attempts to further deploy the array when it detected a slight vibration between the array and the rest of the spacecraft that had them concerned. Now, NASA has decided that further efforts to deploy the array are unlikely to do any good, so it won’t be making any more attempts for now.

“Using engineering models calibrated by spacecraft data, the team estimates that the solar array is over 98% deployed, and it is strong enough to withstand the stresses of Lucy’s 12-year mission,” NASA writes.

The array has been generating enough solar power for the mission even in its unlatched state, but one concern was that vibrations from the spacecraft firing its thrusters could cause damage to the array. So when Lucy made a flyby of Earth last year the team chose to adjust its course to lessen the atmospheric drag it experienced.

As the spacecraft is now moving away from the sun, it will be getting colder which will make any attempts to latch the array less productive. The big test for Lucy will come in February 2024, when it will make another approach of Earth and fire its main engine for the first time. The team can then assess whether the array can handle the forces involved or if they will need to make further interventions.

Editors' Recommendations

Georgina Torbet
Georgina is the Digital Trends space writer, covering human space exploration, planetary science, and cosmology. She…
How to watch NASA’s all-private crew launch to the ISS on Sunday
SpaceX's rocket on the launch pad for the crewed Ax-2 mission.

Ax-2 Mission | Launch

Four private citizens are about to blast off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for a spacecraft ride to the International Space Station (ISS).

Read more
NASA readies for its second all-private mission to ISS
Axiom Space's Ax-2 crew.

NASA, in partnership with Axiom Space and SpaceX, is making final preparations for the second all-private mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

The four Ax-2 crewmembers will travel to the station aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule launched by a Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Read more
NASA confirms ISS will host cosmonauts through 2028
The International Space Station’s solar arrays provide power for the orbiting laboratory. NASA will install a total of six new roll out solar arrays in front of the existing arrays at 1A, 2B, 3A, 3B, 4A, and 4B to augment the power. During the Aug. 24 spacewalk, NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei and astronaut Akihiko Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency will install the modification kit on the 4A power channel, where the next new roll out solar array will be installed in 2022.

The International Space Station (ISS) looked for a while like it was about to become a little less international when the Russian space agency chief suggested last year that his country would stop sending cosmonauts to the orbital outpost “after 2024.”

Roscosmos chief Yuri Borisov made the statement in July during a period of increasing tension between the U.S. and Russia following Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine five months earlier.

Read more