Later this year, a NASA spacecraft named Lucy will launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on a 12-year mission to visit the asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars. It will visit seven asteroids, including six of the Trojans — asteroids that share the orbit of Jupiter — and it could help reveal how planets formed in the early solar system.
Now, Lucy is preparing for launch in October. Ahead of the launch, Lucy has deployed its solar panels in a series of solar array deployment tests. The panels have a diameter of 24 feet each, though they fold up to a tiny 4 inches thick. Adding to the complexity of deploying them is that they can’t support their own weight. This isn’t a problem in the zero-gravity environment of space but poses a challenge here on Earth. To support the panels during the testing, engineers used a weight offload device to support them.
The tests were performed by Lockheed Martin between December last year and February this year, and NASA has now confirmed that the tests were successful.
“The success of Lucy’s final solar array deployment test marked the end of a long road of development. With dedication and excellent attention to detail, the team overcame every obstacle to ready these solar panels,” said Matt Cox, Lockheed Martin’s Lucy program manager, in a statement. “Lucy will travel farther from the sun than any previous solar-powered Discovery-class mission, and one reason we can do that is the technology in these solar arrays.”
With this test completed, the science team is confident that Lucy will be ready for its mission.
“At about one hour after the spacecraft launches, the solar panels will need to deploy flawlessly in order to assure that we have enough energy to power the spacecraft throughout the mission,” said Principal Investigator Hal Levison of the Southwest Institute in Boulder, Colorado. “These 20 minutes will determine if the rest of the 12-year mission will be a success. Mars landers have their seven minutes of terror, we have this.”
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