Engineers investigating iffy solar array latch on NASA's Lucy as probe begins long journey to Trojan asteroids

Spacecraft otherwise stable and working well


NASA's Lucy is on its way to the Trojan asteroids, but engineers have already spotted a problem with one of the probe's 7.3-metre solar arrays.

The spacecraft was sent on its way from Cape Canaveral's Space Force Station's SLC-41 pad on Saturday atop an Atlas V rocket. The mission is set to last 12 years, over which the probe, dubbed "Lucy" (named for the fossilised skeleton of an early hominin ancestor), will fly past one main-belt asteroid and seven Trojan asteroids.

Lucy is now barrelling along at approximately 108,000kph and is due to swing past Earth in a year's time for a gravity assist. It sent its first signal to Earth just over an hour after launch and 30 minutes after unfurling its solar arrays.

Which is where things might not be going quite so well: while both arrays have deployed and are producing power to charge the spacecraft's batteries, one does not appear to have fully latched into place.

Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA, approved the mission in 2017.

The spacecraft is set to make its first Trojan asteroid encounter in 2027, in the swarm of asteroids ahead of Jupiter. After a third gravity assist from Earth in 2031 (a second will take place in 2024), it will reach the trailing swarm of Trojans in 2033.

Scientists reckon that the Trojan asteroids are leftover materials from the formation of the giant planets and could offer insights into how the solar system evolved. The asteroids share an orbit around the Sun with Jupiter.

The distances involved mean huge solar arrays are required to keep the probe's instruments running.

Lucy is not the first spacecraft to suffer power issues; a faulty connection on ESA's Mars Express reduced the power available from the probe's arrays. That mission has gone on to exceed all expectations.

The spacecraft has further checkouts ahead of it, although it is unclear if these will be postponed while engineers work on the latch issue. As well as insisting the spacecraft was stable and working well, NASA said: "The team is analyzing spacecraft data to understand the situation and determine next steps to achieve full deployment of the solar array." ®

Similar topics


Other stories you might like

  • A peek into Gigabyte's GPU Arm for AI, HPC shops
    High-performance platform choices are going beyond the ubiquitous x86 standard

    Arm-based servers continue to gain momentum with Gigabyte Technology introducing a system based on Ampere's Altra processors paired with Nvidia A100 GPUs, aimed at demanding workloads such as AI training and high-performance compute (HPC) applications.

    The G492-PD0 runs either an Ampere Altra or Altra Max processor, the latter delivering 128 64-bit cores that are compatible with the Armv8.2 architecture.

    It supports 16 DDR4 DIMM slots, which would be enough space for up to 4TB of memory if all slots were filled with 256GB memory modules. The chassis also has space for no fewer than eight Nvidia A100 GPUs, which would make for a costly but very powerful system for those workloads that benefit from GPU acceleration.

    Continue reading
  • GitLab version 15 goes big on visibility and observability
    GitOps fans can take a spin on the free tier for pull-based deployment

    One-stop DevOps shop GitLab has announced version 15 of its platform, hot on the heels of pull-based GitOps turning up on the platform's free tier.

    Version 15.0 marks the arrival of GitLab's next major iteration and attention this time around has turned to visibility and observability – hardly surprising considering the acquisition of OpsTrace as 2021 drew to a close, as well as workflow automation, security and compliance.

    GitLab puts out monthly releases –  hitting 15.1 on June 22 –  and we spoke to the company's senior director of Product, Kenny Johnston, at the recent Kubecon EU event, about what will be added to version 15 as time goes by. During a chat with the company's senior director of Product, Kenny Johnston, at the recent Kubecon EU event, The Register was told that this was more where dollars were being invested into the product.

    Continue reading
  • To multicloud, or not: Former PayPal head engineer weighs in
    Not everyone needs it, but those who do need to consider 3 things, says Asim Razzaq

    The push is on to get every enterprise thinking they're missing out on the next big thing if they don't adopt a multicloud strategy.

    That shove in the multicloud direction appears to be working. More than 75 percent of businesses are now using multiple cloud providers, according to Gartner. That includes some big companies, like Boeing, which recently chose to spread its bets across AWS, Google Cloud and Azure as it continues to eliminate old legacy systems. 

    There are plenty of reasons to choose to go with multiple cloud providers, but Asim Razzaq, CEO and founder at cloud cost management company Yotascale, told The Register that choosing whether or not to invest in a multicloud architecture all comes down to three things: How many different compute needs a business has, budget, and the need for redundancy. 

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022