Even two weeks after the launch, one of the two solar panels on NASA’s Lucy probe is not fully open. Tests carried out now have shown that the collector was only 75 to 95 percent extended, the US space agency announced. It is currently held in place by a strap that is supposed to help unfold it.
Actually, it should have clicked into its final position shortly after takeoff. A team is still trying to find out why that didn’t work. At the same time, the possible options are discussed, including whether the solar collector can be left in its current position. Lucy herself is meanwhile stable in flight mode and has successfully carried out several planned maneuvers.
Probe with a full order book
The Lucy probe, named after an important fossil of the human ancestor Australopithecus afarensis, was launched on October 16. During her 12-year mission, she will primarily research the so-called Jupiter Trojans. These are asteroids that orbit the sun on the orbit of Jupiter in two large groups – one in front of the gas giant, one behind it. The primitive celestial bodies are considered to be fossils of the formation of planets, about which NASA hopes to gain new knowledge.
Lucy is the first ever mission to be sent to the asteroids, seven of them will visit: Eurybates, Queta, Polymele, Leucus, Orus, Patroclus and Menoetius. Lucy is also supposed to pass the asteroid Donaldjohanson in the main belt between Mars and Jupiter’s orbits. It is named after the discoverer of the fossil “Lucy”.
Lucy gets her energy from two large solar collectors, which are supposed to provide enough electricity for the operation of the probe and the scientific instruments even far away from the sun, on Jupiter’s orbit. Even fully deployed, that would only be about three percent of the energy that can be generated in Earth’s orbit. The priority of the researchers should therefore be to bring the unfolding that was not entirely successful to a successful conclusion. Should this be initiated, then at the earliest on November 16, shared NASA still with and “all other systems work normally”.