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NASA decided to leave alone the jammed solar panel of the Lucy probe - everything is working fine anyway.

Published: 2023-01-20

NASA announced that it was decided to leave the jammed solar panel of the Lucy probe alone until at least the fall of 2024. The panel is in a stable enough state to achieve all of the mission objectives. New attempts to complete the expansion before the panel is fixed will carry more risk than just leaving everything as it is.

The Lucy probe was sent into space on October 16, 2021. The scientific program of the probe will begin in 2025 and will last until at least 2033. The probe will visit the "archaeological antiquities of the solar system" - about a dozen asteroids orbiting Jupiter, which are believed to have been there since before the formation of the planets of our system.

Shortly after launch, it turned out that one of the two round solar panels of the probe did not fully open - the winch jammed at a certain stage. The NASA team made several attempts throughout 2022 to complete the deployment of the panel before fixation, but this goal was never achieved.

The last attempt was made on December 13, 2022. The winch tightened the panel so slightly that further efforts were deemed pointless. At least, the best result was achieved when the probe was closer to the Sun and heated up in its rays. Now "Lucy" is at a distance of 197 million km from the Sun (1.3 times farther than the Earth) and is moving away from it at a speed of 35 thousand km / h. Under such conditions, NASA considers it inappropriate to continue trying.

Experts estimate based on probe instrument readings and simulation models that the panel is 98% or more deployed. This is enough to generate the necessary power to support the probe's 12-year mission.

The Lucy gravity maneuver near the Earth in October 2022 will eventually take the probe to a distance of 500 million km from it and again return to the gravity well of our planet on December 12, 2024 for a new maneuver. Over the next year and a half, the team will continue to collect data on how the solar array behaves during flight.

The focus will be on observing the behavior of the solar array during the maneuver in February 2024, when the spacecraft fires its main engine for the first time. When the spacecraft warms up during its close approach to Earth in the fall of 2024, the NASA team will reassess the need for additional mitigation measures and may again attempt to complete the panel deployment before it locks.