There's a Solar Array Problem With NASA's Lucy Asteroid Mission

One of the spacecraft's arrays 'may not be fully latched'.
Chris Young
An artist's illustration of the Lucy spacecraft.NASA

NASA's Lucy mission, which will investigate eight of the Trojan asteroids that share Jupiter's orbital trajectory, has hit a roadblock towards reaching the ancient remnants of our solar system, a NASA blog post reveals.

Only 48 hours after the launch of the Lucy spacecraft aboard an Atlas V rocket on Saturday, October 16, NASA discovered that one of the craft's two solar arrays might not be properly attached.

Lucy's second solar array 'may not be fully latched'

The two solar arrays were folded on the side of the Lucy spacecraft during launch and they were programmed to unfurl once the machine reached orbit. The unfurling process is a crucial 20-minute phase of the Lucy mission, which will last a total of 12 years. The solar arrays are working, though NASA needs to determine whether the mission can safely proceed to full deployment of the solar array.

"Lucy's two solar arrays have deployed, and both are producing power and the battery is charging," NASA's statement explains. "While one of the arrays has latched, indications are that the second array may not be fully latched. In the current spacecraft attitude, Lucy can continue to operate with no threat to its health and safety. The team is analyzing spacecraft data to understand the situation and determine next steps to achieve full deployment of the solar array."

NASA's associate director is confident that the Lucy team 'will prevail'

In a tweet, NASA's associate director for science, Thomas Zurbuchen, said "NASA's Lucy mission is safe and stable. The two solar arrays have deployed, but one may not be fully latched. The team is analyzing data to determine the next steps. This team has overcome many challenges already and I am confident they will prevail here as well."

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The Lucy mission has its sights set on analyzing the Trojan asteroids — via infrared imagers and cameras — as it flies by the objects that are on the same orbital trajectory as Jupiter. The mission is named after the Lucy fossil, discovered in 1974 in Ethiopia, which changed our understanding of the hominin species. The Trojan asteroids are locked in an orbital trajectory, which means they have perpetually orbited the Sun since the beginning of our solar system and they are essentially fossils of early planet formation. The Lucy mission is the first to study these celestial objects up close, and NASA hopes that, in the same vein as the Lucy fossil discovery, their new mission will change our understanding of planetary evolution.