La NASA descubre y repara errores en la nave espacial Lucy unida a asteroides a millones de kilómetros de distancia

Poco después del lanzamiento de Lucy, uno de sus paneles solares no se desplegó por completo, lo que comprometió la misión. La animación conceptual de un artista representa esta anomalía en el conjunto solar de Lucy. Crédito: Laboratorio de imágenes conceptuales del Centro de Vuelo Espacial Goddard de la NASA

Tras el exitoso lanzamiento de[{” attribute=””>NASA’s Lucy spacecraft on October 16, 2021, a group of engineers huddled around a long conference table in Titusville, Florida. Lucy was just mere hours into its 12-year journey, but a major unexpected challenge had surfaced for the first-ever Trojan asteroids mission.

Data indicated that one of Lucy’s solar arrays — designed to unfurl like a hand fan — hadn’t fully opened and latched. Since the solar arrays power the spacecraft’s systems, the team had to figure out what to do next.

To troubleshoot the problem, teams from NASA and Lucy mission partners quickly came together. Team members from Lockheed Martin’s Mission Support Area outside of Denver, who were in communication with the spacecraft directly, were on the phone.

Although the conversation was quiet, it was intense. At one end of the room, an engineer sat with furrowed brow, folding and unfolding a paper plate in the same way that Lucy’s enormous circular solar arrays operate.

There were so many unanswered questions. What happened? Was the array open at all? Was there a way to fix it? Without a fully deployed array, would Lucy be able to safely perform the maneuvers needed to accomplish its science mission?

Because Lucy was already speeding on its way through space, the stakes were incredibly high.


La misión Lucy de la NASA se dirige a[{” attribute=””>Jupiter Trojans – two swarms of unexplored asteroids trapped in Jupiter’s orbit. Lucy made a picture-perfect launch on October 16, 2021, but when the spacecraft began to unfurl its solar arrays, it encountered an anomaly. One of the arrays failed to fully deploy and latch shut, putting the mission at risk. For months, Lucy’s flight operations team worked meticulously to address the issue and put Lucy back on its solar-powered journey to the Jupiter Trojans.

Within hours, NASA pulled together Lucy’s anomaly response team, which included members from science mission lead Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Austin, Texas; mission operations lead NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland; spacecraft builder Lockheed Martin; and Northrop Grumman in San Diego, solar array system designer and builder.

“This is a talented team, firmly committed to the success of Lucy,” said Donya Douglas-Bradshaw, former Lucy project manager from NASA Goddard. “They have the same grit and dedication that got us to a successful launch during a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.”

United in their pursuit to ensure Lucy would reach its fullest potential, the team began an exhaustive deep dive to determine the cause of the issue and develop the best path forward.

Given that the spacecraft was otherwise perfectly healthy, the team wasn’t rushing into anything.

“We have an incredibly talented team, but it was important to give them time to figure out what happened and how to move forward,” said Hal Levison, Lucy’s principal investigator from SwRI. “Fortunately, the spacecraft was where it was supposed to be, functioning nominally, and – most importantly – safe. We had time.”

Lucy Solar Panel Deployment Tests

At 24 feet (7.3 meters) across each, Lucy’s two solar panels underwent initial deployment tests in January 2021. In this photo, a technician at Lockheed Martin Space in Denver, Colorado, inspects one of Lucy’s arrays during its first deployment. These massive solar arrays will power the Lucy spacecraft throughout its entire 4-billion-mile, 12-year journey through space as it heads out to explore Jupiter’s elusive Trojan asteroids. Credit: Lockheed Martin

Staying focused during many long days and nights, the team worked through options. To evaluate Lucy’s solar array configuration in real-time, the team fired thrusters on the spacecraft and gathered data on how those forces made the solar array vibrate. Next, they fed the data into a detailed model of the array’s motor assembly to infer how rigid Lucy’s array was – which helped uncover the source of the issue.

At last, they closed in on the root cause: a lanyard designed to pull Lucy’s massive solar array open was likely snarled on its bobbin-like spool.

After months of further brainstorming and testing, Lucy’s team settled on two potential paths forward.

In one, they would pull harder on the lanyard by running the array’s backup deployment motor at the same time as its primary motor. The power from two motors should allow the jammed lanyard to wind in further and engage the array’s latching mechanism. While both motors were never originally intended to operate at the same time, the team used models to ensure the concept would work.

The second option: use the array as it was – nearly fully deployed and generating more than 90% of its expected power.


Poco después del lanzamiento de Lucy, uno de sus paneles solares no se desplegó por completo, lo que comprometió la misión. La animación conceptual de un artista representa esta anomalía en el conjunto solar de Lucy.

“Cada trayectoria conlleva algún elemento de riesgo para lograr los objetivos científicos básicos”, dijo Barry Knox, ingeniero jefe de exploración del espacio profundo en Lockheed Martin. “Gran parte de nuestro esfuerzo ha sido identificar medidas proactivas que mitiguen los riesgos en cualquiera de los escenarios”.

El equipo trazó y probó los posibles resultados de ambas opciones. Analizaron horas de imágenes de prueba de matriz, crearon una réplica del conjunto de motores de matriz y probaron la réplica que cruzó sus límites para comprender mejor los riesgos de intentos de implementación adicionales. También desarrollaron un software especial de alta resolución para simular a Lucy en el espacio y medir cualquier posible efecto dominó que el intento de redespliegue podría tener en la nave espacial.

“La colaboración y el trabajo en equipo con los socios de la misión ha sido tremendo”, dijo Frank Bernas, vicepresidente de componentes espaciales y negocios estratégicos de Northrop Grumman.

Después de meses de simulación y pruebas, la NASA decidió seguir adelante con la primera opción: un intento de varios pasos para redesplegar completamente el conjunto solar. En siete ocasiones en mayo y junio, el equipo ordenó a la nave espacial que hiciera funcionar los motores de despliegue de paneles solares primarios y de respaldo simultáneamente. El esfuerzo funcionó, la cuerda tiró, abrió y apretó la matriz.

La misión ahora estima que la matriz solar de Lucy está abierta entre 353 ° y 357 ° (de un total de 360 ​​° para una matriz completamente dispersa). Aunque la matriz no está completamente sellada, está sujeta a una tensión significativamente mayor, lo que la hace lo suficientemente estable para operar la nave espacial según sea necesario para las operaciones de la misión.

La nave espacial ahora está lista y puede completar la próxima gran misión: la asistencia de gravedad de la Tierra en octubre de 2022. Lucy está lista para alcanzar su primer objetivo de asteroide en 2025.

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