NASA is taking a break from attempts to unfurl a finicky solar array on the Lucy spacecraft, claiming that the probe is too cold and that efforts at deploying the array could be more fruitful when Lucy is closer to the Sun in December 2024.
After launching in October 2021, one of the spacecraft’s two 24-foot-wide (7-meter-wide) solar arrays, which supplies power to Lucy, failed to fully unfurl, remaining stuck in an unlatched position. While NASA has made previous attempts to fully deploy the array, the agency announced in a blog post that the Lucy team will be suspending attempts to completely unfurl the array, saying the spacecraft is too cold.
That said, NASA’s not sweating the issue, and estimated in a blog post that the array is 98% deployed and will be able to withstand the remainder of Lucy’s 12-year mission to visit Jupiter’s mysterious Trojan asteroids, which orbit both ahead and behind the gas giant.
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“Ground-based testing indicated that the deployment attempts were most productive while the spacecraft was warmer, closer to the Sun,” NASA communication officer Erin Morton wrote in the post last week. “As the spacecraft is currently 123 million miles (197 million kilometers) from the Sun (1.3 times farther from the Sun than the Earth) and moving away at 20,000 mph (35,000 km/hr), the team does not expect further deployment attempts to be beneficial under present conditions.”
NASA noticed issues with the solar array shortly after the mission’s launch, and deduced that it was a loss in tension in a lanyard used to unfurl the circular array. Lucy is now hurtling away from the Sun, getting colder and colder, but will return to Earth for a gravity assist in December 2024. At this time, the Lucy team hopes that spacecraft will be warm enough to try again.
In the meantime, the team behind Lucy will be collecting data on the misbehaving solar array to see how it operates at its slightly incapacitated state as Lucy continues its mission to visit Jupiter’s Trojan asteroid clusters.