NASA’s Lucy Spacecraft’s Successful Deployment Test

Credit: NASA, JPL

Credit: NASA, JPL

     NASA’s Lucy spacecraft successfully completed thermal vacuum testing of both solar panels on April 6th, 2021. It is the final test for the spacecraft to be able to launch this fall. “Once the Lucy spacecraft’s solar panels are attached and fully extended, they could cover a five-story building.” Said Rob Garner from the NASA newspaper. Lucy is the 13th mission in NASA’s Discovery Program, which means it requires very large solar panels and will operate further from the sun than any previous solar-powered spacecraft.

     Lucy’s solar panels are an impressive 4 inches (10 cm) thick, and when they are opened/expanded, they are nearly 24 feet (7.3 meters). Shockingly, the solar rays are unable to support their own weight of 170 pounds, but this won’t be a problem in the weightlessness of space. Solar array deployment tests occurred between December 2020 and February 2021. Fortunately, the latest test they ran was successful and we will be able to see it launch this fall!

     “At about one hour after the spacecraft launches, the solar panels will need to deploy flawlessly in order to assure that we have enough energy to power the spacecraft throughout the mission,” said Principal Investigator Hal Levison of the Southwest Institute in Boulder, Colorado. Lucy is scheduled to fly by six asteroid targets, each in different orbits, over the course of 12 years. This is very remarkable, that we will (hopefully) not see Lucy for another 12 years after it launches successfully.

     Lucy’s destination is among Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids, clusters of rocky bodies almost as old as the Sun itself, and visiting these asteroids may help unlock the secrets of the early solar system.  Lucy will encounter a Main Belt asteroid in 2025, where it will conduct a practice run of its instruments before encountering the first four Trojan targets from 2027-2028. In 2033, Lucy will end its mission with a study of a binary system. We are very excited to see what Lucy will bring back to us in the year 2033 and we hope to learn more about space life and what is out there.