Last year , NASA launched the Lucy spacecraft , designed to explore the Trojan asteroids trapped near Jupiter ‘s Lagrange point, but a problem arose just 12 hours after launch. One of the vehicle’s Solar panels failed to fully open and lock. Now NASA has announced that a team was able to troubleshoot enough for the mission to continue, thanks to a few clever tricks.
Hours after the problem was first discovered, NASA assembled an anomaly response team with science delegation members from the Southwest Research Institute, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, and the spacecraft’s maker, Northrop Grumman .
Since there was no camera for solar panels , the team had to find another way to find the problem. To that end, they fired the spacecraft’s thrusters to measure any anomalous vibrations and built a detailed model of the panel’s engine assembly to determine the panel’s stiffness. Eventually they realized that a cord designed to open the panel was probably snagged on its reel .
There Are Two Solutions To Turn On The Solar Panel
The team quickly focused on two potential solutions. One was to use the panel as is because it was still producing 90% of the expected power. The other was to try to pull the lanyard harder using the backup engine as well as the primary engine.
Both engines were never designed to run simultaneously, so the team modeled it to test the possible consequences and potential ripple effects. After months of simulations, they decided to move forward with two engine options. They ran both the primary and backup solar distribution motors simultaneously seven times and were able to open and stretch the panel further .
Unfortunately, it didn’t close enough to lock, but NASA said it was “substantially stable enough to keep the spacecraft operating as it should for mission operations . ” It is now ready to advance to its next phase, powered by Earth’s gravity, in October 2022. It is scheduled to reach its first asteroid target in 2025 .