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

Last year, NASA launched the Lucy spacecraft designed to discover the Trojan asteroids trapped close to Jupiter’s Lagrange factors. However, an issue arose simply 12 hours after launch — one of many massive photo voltaic arrays designed to generate energy from an more and more distant Sun had failed to totally deploy and latch. Now, NASA has announced {that a} workforce was in a position to troubleshoot the issue sufficiently for the mission to proceed — thanks to a number of intelligent tips. 

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

Since there is no digital camera aimed on the photo voltaic arrays, the workforce had to determine one other method 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 decide the array’s rigidness. They lastly discovered {that a} lanyard designed to pull the array open was in all probability snagged on its spool. 

The workforce shortly honed in on two potential options. One was merely to use the array because it was, as a result of it was nonetheless producing 90 % of anticipated energy. The different was to try to pull the lanyard tougher through the use of the back-up deployment motor in addition to the first motor, hopefully permitting it to wind additional and have interaction the latching mechanism. 

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

Unfortunately, it did not shut sufficient to latch, but it surely’s now “under substantially more tension, making it stable enough for the spacecraft to operate as needed for mission operations,” NASA mentioned. It’s now “ready and able” to full its subsequent deadline, getting a lift from Earth’s gravity in October 2022. It’s scheduled to arrive at its first asteroid goal in 2025. 

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