NASA Lucy asteroid mission runs into trouble hours after launch

One of two solar arrays on NASA’s Lucy asteroid spacecraft has failed to lock into position after deployment on October 16.
Image credit: NASA

NASA engineers are investigating why one of the two solar arrays equipped to the agency’s Lucy spacecraft has failed to lock into place.

Lucy was launched aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V on October 16 from Cape Canaveral, Florida on a mission to investigate a pair of asteroid fields that may shed light on the formation of our solar system.

Following a successful launch, a NASA press release confirmed that the team had acquired a signal from the spacecraft and that its two circular solar arrays had been deployed successfully. However, an update released a day later revealed that one of the two arrays had failed to lock into place follow deployment.

Despite the issue, NASA has confirmed that both arrays are producing power and charging Lucy’s battery. The spacecraft can continue to operate in its current configuration without affecting the mission.

Engineers are currently examining data from the spacecraft to determine the best course of action moving forward.

Named after the fossilized skeleton of one of humanity’s earliest known ancestors, Lucy was built to explore two fields of Trojan asteroids that share an orbit around the Sun and Jupiter.

Scientists believe that these asteroids are the remnants of the formation of giant planets from a distant solar system. It is hoped that by studying the asteroids we may learn more about the evolution of our own solar system in much the same way as Lucy helped us understand human evolution.

“It will still be several years before we get to the first Trojan asteroid, but these objects are worth the wait and all the effort because of their immense scientific value,” said Hal Levison, Lucy’s principal investigator. “They are like diamonds in the sky.”

Following two Earth gravity assists in 2022 and 2024, Lucy will make its first Trojan asteroid encounter in 2027. After completing four targeted flybys of the first asteroid field, it will make a third Earth gravity assist in 2031 that will catapult it to the second field by 2033.

Andrew Parsonson is a space enthusiast and the founder of Rocket Rundown. He has worked as a journalist and blogger for various industries for over 5 years and has a passion for both fictional and real-life space travel. Currently, Andrew is the primary writer for Rocket Rundown as we look to expand our reach and credibility.