NASA says their engineers are currently investigating a potential problem with their Lucy spacecraft where one of their solar cells may not be locked into place.
Lucy took off from Cape Canaveral, Florida on Saturday, October 16, aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.
The spacecraft is heading for Jupiter to study the Trojan asteroids on an ambitious mission that scientists hope will tell us more about how our solar system was formed billions of years ago.
But the space agency revealed that when Lucy set up her 24-foot-wide solar panels 90 minutes after launch and 30 minutes after disconnecting from the rocket’s second stage, one of them may not have clicked into place.
In a message Posted on Sunday October 17 on their website, NASA said that while Lucy “appears to be working fine and stable … there are indications that the second array may not be fully locked”. However, both arrays are currently producing electricity.
It was said that in the current stance of the spacecraft (the orientation of the spacecraft in space), Lucy can continue to function “without endangering its health and safety”.
NASA confirmed that their team is now “analyzing spacecraft data to understand the situation and determine the next steps to achieve full deployment of the solar array.” It declined to describe the possible consequences of failing to secure the second array.
It’s clearly a worrying situation, but Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA Associate Administrator for Science, said positively after hearing the news: tweet: “This team has already mastered many challenges and I am confident that they will prevail here as well.”
The spacecraft is currently flying at 67,000 miles per hour on a trajectory that is expected to orbit the sun and return to Earth in October next year for gravity assistance to send it to its destination.
Planning for the Lucy mission began in 2014. Provided it overcomes the current problem, it will be NASA’s first single-spacecraft mission to explore so many different asteroids – eight in all.
Lucy Mission Principal Investigator Hal Levison of the Southwest Research Institute recently said of the challenging 12 year undertaking: “It will be a few more years before we reach the first Trojan asteroid, but these objects are well worth the wait their immense scientific value. They are like diamonds in the sky. “
We’ll be sure to provide an update as soon as NASA releases more information about the current anomaly.
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