Heading towards 8 asteroids, Lucy mission was in jeopardy and then NASA did this.

NASA’s Lucy spacecraft was deployed successfully in October, 2021 with an aim to fly by a total of eight ancient asteroids to study “solar system’s evolution”. The spacecraft was designed to be the first mission to the Trojan asteroids that move along the asteroid belt. However, it immediately ran into an unexpected problem. According to the data from NASA, one of the solar arrays powering it, designed to unfurl, had not fully opened putting the $981 million Lucy space mission in trouble.

It was not easy to troubleshoot the problem. NASA’s Lucy’s anomaly response team consisted of members from the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), NASA’, spacecraft builder Lockheed Martin and the solar array system designer and builder Northrop Grumman.

How did scientists fix Lucy’s anomalies?

Scientists discover that the source of the problem is a lanyard pulling Lucy’s huge solar array and preventing it from opening up. It was likely snarled on its spool. The team identified two ways to open the Lucy’s stuck solar panels- one was to pull the lanyard harder by running the array’s backup deployment motor at once. Scientists commanded the spacecraft to simultaneously run the primary and backup solar array deployment motors on seven occasions in May and June. The efforts were successful and the motors together pulled the lanyard, opening and tensioning the array.

What is Nasa’s Lucy mission?

The spacecraft named after an ancient fossil of a pre-human ancestor, Lucy, is the first solar-powered spacecraft to explore a group of rocky bodies known as the Jupiter Trojan asteroids. This is the first mission to run on solar energy while traveling billions of kilometers away from the solar influence.

Before reaching its destination, the spacecraft is supposed to conduct three Earth flybys for a gravity assist. It will encounter seven Trojan asteroids – five in the swarm that leads to Jupiter, and two in the swarm that trails the gas giant between 2027 and 2033. One other asteroid is not a Trojan asteroid but a main rock. It will study these ancient asteroids that have been left over from the time the solar system was formed.