NASA’s Lucy spacecraft was launched safely into space early Saturday morning from Florida, but after deploying its two large solar panels, one failed to lock properly .
Together, the two solar panels have a collecting area of 51 square meters. Such networks are needed because the spacecraft will spend much of its 12-year journey about five times the distance from Earth to the Sun. Lucy’s solar panels can only generate about 3% of the energy at a Jovian distance than they can in Earth’s orbit around the Sun.
Solar panels are essential. Scientists on the mission say Lucy will travel farther from the Sun, for longer, than any other solar-powered spacecraft.
According to NASA, this weekend, the two networks were powering Lucy and charging the spacecraft’s batteries. “In the current attitude of the spacecraft, Lucy can continue to operate without threatening her health and safety,” the agency said in a blog post. But it is not yet clear how the lockdown issue will affect the long-term operations and maneuvers of the 1.5-ton spacecraft.
Engineers from NASA and the spacecraft’s main contractor, Lockheed Martin, are actively working on the issue.
“NASA’s Lucy mission is safe and stable,” said agency chief scientific exploration Thomas Zurbuchen, said on Twitter on Sunday. “Both solar panels have deployed, but one may not be fully locked. The team analyzes the data to determine next steps. This team has already overcome many challenges and I have no doubts that they will win here as well. “
A senior NASA official said the spacecraft was “concerned” but mission leaders were “quite optimistic” about the ability to resolve the issue. They expect to learn more about the issue this week and identify potential fixes.
Lucy, bound for the main asteroid belt, then the Trojan asteroids in Jupiter’s orbit, is in escape orbit from Earth and beyond any hope of repair by an intervening spacecraft.
The $ 981 million mission is expected to follow an extremely complex trajectory over a dozen years. The spacecraft will pass close to Earth a total of three times for gravitational aids as it visits a Main Belt asteroid, 52246 Donaldjohanson, and then fly over eight Trojan asteroids that share Jupiter’s orbit around the Sun.