A robotic spacecraft that NASA just launched to explore clusters of asteroids around Jupiter may be in some slight trouble on its journey through space. The space probe, named Lucy, is having issues with one of its two main solar panels, which are critical for gathering rays from the Sun and generating power for the spacecraft on its 12-year trip through the Solar System.
NASA launched Lucy early in the morning on Saturday, October 16th, on top of an Atlas V rocket from Florida. The launch was deemed a success, putting Lucy on its trajectory to reach Jupiter’s asteroids, named the Trojans, by 2027.
“In the current spacecraft attitude, Lucy can continue to operate.”
But on Sunday, NASA announced that one of Lucy’s 24-foot-wide solar panels may not be fully latched, according to an update on the agency’s website. It’s unclear what that means for the future of the mission, but NASA says the mission team is working on analyzing the problem and will come up with next steps in the days ahead. In the meantime, both of the solar arrays are producing power and charging the battery, so the latch issue does not seem to be negatively affecting Lucy at the moment.
“All other subsystems are normal,” NASA says in its statement. “In the current spacecraft attitude, Lucy can continue to operate with no threat to its health and safety.”
However, an improperly latched solar array might be an issue as Lucy makes its way deeper into the Solar System. The spacecraft is slated to visit seven Trojan asteroids, as well as an asteroid in the main Asteroid Belt, and it will swing by Earth up to three times to get a boost from our planet’s gravity. It’s a long road ahead, and generating power from the Sun will be absolutely vital on its journey.