Lucy’s planned route to explore the Trojan asteroids
The Lucy science team has decided to suspend its efforts to complete the deployment of the unlatched solar panel that failed to fully open shortly after launch, having determined that little can be accomplished while the spacecraft is so far from the Sun.
A series of activities in 2022 succeeded in further deploying the array, placing it into a tensioned, but unlatched, state. Using engineering models calibrated by spacecraft data, the team estimates that the solar array is over 98% deployed, and it is strong enough to withstand the stresses of Lucy’s 12-year mission. The team’s confidence in the stability of the solar array was affirmed by its behavior during the close flyby of the Earth on Oct. 16, 2022, when the spacecraft flew within 243 miles (392 km) of the Earth, through the Earth’s upper atmosphere. The solar array is producing the expected level of power at the present solar range and is expected to have enough capability to perform the baseline mission with margin.
The team elected to suspend deployment attempts after the attempt on Dec. 13, 2022, produced only small movement in the solar array. Ground-based testing indicated that the deployment attempts were most productive while the spacecraft was warmer, closer to the Sun. As the spacecraft is currently 123 million miles (197 million km) from the Sun (1.3 times farther from the Sun than the Earth) and moving away at 20,000 mph (35,000 km/hr), the team does not expect further deployment attempts to be beneficial under present conditions.
The spacecraft will do another Earth fly-by on December 12, 2024, which will send it to the Trojans on the left side of the map above. Before that Lucy will do a mid-course correction in February 2024, at which time the engineers will reassess whether to try again to latch the panel, when Lucy is closer to Earth and thus also closer to the Sun.
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