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A Lucy solar panel on Lucy fails to latch properly after deployment

Partly deployed panel

Engineers at Lockheed Martin (the prime contractor) and Northrop Grumann (which built the panels) are now troubleshooting an issue with one of the solar panels on the asteroid probe Lucy, which failed to latch properly after deployment.

The NASA graphic to the right illustrates this issue, though the graphic might not accurately portray the exact circumstance at Lucy. To get more solar power, Lucy’s panels are larger, and thus were designed to unfurl like a fan rather than the more commonly used accordion design. One panel has not completed that unfurling.

NASA’s announcement tries to minimize the issue but this quote from the link makes it clear that this could be a very big problem.

It’s not yet clear whether the array in question is, in fact, fully deployed but not latched in place or whether it did not reach full deployment and is not generating the same amount of power as its counterpart. It’s also not yet clear whether Lucy can safely fire its maneuvering thrusters with an unlatched array.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

 

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"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs."--San Antonio Express-News

6 comments

  • Mike

    Didn’t even have to get a million miles away to fail.

    Boondoggle does not even begin to properly describe this whole ordeal.

    Maybe they can get the x-37 over to latch the damn thing before it floats off into the great unknown…

    I had such high hopes for this instrument.

  • Richard M

    “Maybe they can get the x-37 over to latch the damn thing before it floats off into the great unknown…”

    It’s already on an Earth escape trajectory, out beyond lunar orbit, so that seems pretty unlikely…

    Still, even if Lucy’s engineers can’t get it to latch, it may not harm the mission if the array is mostly deployed (as suggested in the press release render). Mars Global Surveyor flew its entire mission with an unlatched array (though of a different design), including aerobraking at Mars in the Martian atmosphere using the panels as drag surfaces.

  • Richard M: That graphic is NOT an attempt to show the present situation. It is a graphic released before launch, that simply illustrates the design of those solar panels.

    NASA has presently given us no data on the actual state of the panel. Engineers are probably still trying to figure that out.

  • Richard M

    Hello Bob,

    “That graphic is NOT an attempt to show the present situation.” Absolutely – I did not mean to leave an impression to the contrary. There’s no publicly released information about just exactly how far depoyed that array is. I merely meant that IF the array is deployed as the render created before the mission depicts – and this is a big IF – then even if they *cannot* find a way to latch it, then it’s hard to see how it still wouldn’t be able to achieve something very close to 100% of its intended energy profile, assuming there’s no appreciable risk of the array folding back up.

    It’s not a doom scenario yet.

    Another thought that occurs to me, though: Goddard opted for circular arrays because they needed to be very large (51 square meters of solar cells) for the mission’s energy requirements out at Jupiter’s orbit, and the fairing size of the Atlas would not permit conventional “accordion” style arrays. This could be less of a worry with certain commercial heavy lift rockets in devolopment, particularly a certain very big one undergoing testing down in Boca Chica.

  • Localfluff

    I hope nothing similar happens to the furling or latching of the JWST.

  • Gealon

    I don’t understand this fascination with these pseudo-circular solar panels. All they do is add complication and more points of failure, to the most critical system on a space craft, it’s source of power. Furthermore, I have seen video of these panels being tested of, and of all the asinine things the engineers could have done, they made the substrate Flexible. I am an engineer myself and I cannot properly express how upset these design choices make me. These panels reek of this thing being designed in a committee, where people forced through in their favorite pet concepts rather than what would actually be best for the mission. Why? Why didn’t they use traditional, rigid, rectangular panels? Was this a weight or space issue? I can’t see how these panels could be significantly more efficient on either space or weight. Just look at Juno, no problems with it’s panels.

    I just… I can’t… I’m going to go have a cup of tea and sooth my offended K.I.S.S. principals with some Kerbal Space Program.

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