NASA develops ingenious solution to fix its troubled ‘Lucy’ asteroid explorer

Final yr, NASA launched the Lucy spacecraft designed to discover the Trojan asteroids trapped close to Jupiter’s Lagrange factors. Nevertheless, an issue arose simply 12 hours after launch — one of many giant photo voltaic arrays designed to generate energy from an more and more distant Solar had failed to totally deploy and latch. Now, NASA has introduced {that a} staff was in a position to troubleshoot the issue sufficiently for the mission to proceed — due to a number of intelligent methods. 

Hours after the issue was first found, NASA pulled collectively an anomaly response staff with members from the science mission lead Southwest Analysis Institute, NASA’s Goddard House Flight Middle and the spacecraft’s builder, Northrop Grumman. 

Since there is no digicam aimed on the photo voltaic arrays, the staff had to determine one other option to discover the issue. To that finish, they fired the spacecraft’s thrusters to measure any anomalous vibrations, and created an in depth mannequin of the array’s motor meeting to find out the array’s rigidness. They lastly found out {that a} lanyard designed to drag the array open was in all probability snagged on its spool. 

The staff shortly honed in on two potential options. One was merely to make use of the array because it was, as a result of it was nonetheless producing 90 p.c of anticipated energy. The opposite was to try to drag the lanyard more durable by utilizing the back-up deployment motor in addition to the first motor, hopefully permitting it to wind additional and have interaction the latching mechanism. 

Each motors had been by no means designed to work on the similar time, so the staff modeled it to check out potential outcomes and potential ripple results. After months of simulations, they determined to proceed with the two-motor possibility. They ran each the first and backup photo voltaic deployment motors concurrently seven occasions, and succeeded in additional opening and tensioning the array. 

Sadly, it did not shut sufficient to latch, however it’s now “below considerably extra stress, making it secure sufficient for the spacecraft to function as wanted for mission operations,” NASA mentioned. It is now “prepared and ready” to finish its subsequent deadline, getting a lift from Earth’s gravity in October 2022. It is scheduled to reach at its first asteroid goal in 2025. 

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