Trojan Mission Lucy Tested its Solar Panels for the First Time. Those Things are Huge

Space missions often have to go where the sun doesn’t shine. Or at least where it shines very weakly. This is especially important when the mission draws its strength from the sun. Fortunately, engineers have a way to deal with this problem – just make really very large solar panels. That’s exactly what they did for Lucy, a mission to visit the Trojan asteroids around Jupiter. These sails have now been ground tested and are great.

When fully deployed, Lucy’s solar modules have a diameter of 7.3 meters, but are only 10 cm thick. While testing in a thermal vacuum chamber at the Lockheed Martin Space facility where the mission is being built, the test team had to build a weight unloading system to ensure the panels did not collapse on themselves.

NASA video describing the Lucy mission.
Photo credit: NASA Goddard YouTube Channel

The panels should be self-supporting during the mission and will be used to generate around 500 watts of power when out of Jupiter’s orbit. This corresponds roughly to the equivalent power consumption of a standard washing machine.

Lucy herself will need her solar panels to even reach her mission goal. The panels will deploy approximately an hour after launch, and that deployment will determine the fate of the remainder of the mission. “[Those] 20 minutes will determine whether the remainder of the 12-year mission will be successful, ”said Hal Levison, Principal Investigator for Lucy at the Southwest Research Institute.

Lucy’s solar panels are partially deployed in this picture, and scientists are still working on them.
Photo credit: Lockheed Martin

With a little luck and a little more work, this mission will go smoothly. So far, efforts to design and test the various subsystems of spacecraft are due to the engineering and science team tasked with making Lucy a reality. This reality will come to light on October 16, when the spaceship with the spectacular solar system begins its journey to the Trojans.

Learn more:
NASA – Lucy from NASA stretches her wings in the successful test for the provision of solar modules
Centauri Dreams – Lucy: The provision of solar modules tests a success
SwRI – The Lucy Spaceship and the Payload

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