NASA is currently working on a spacecraft called Lucy and has announced that it has successfully completed a solar panel deployment test. Lucy has completed thermal vacuum testing of both solar panels, which is the final step in checking out the critical components in preparation for launch. Lucy is currently set to launch this fall.
The spacecraft has massive solar panels, and when they are attached and fully extended, they can cover a five-story building. The spacecraft needs such massive solar panels because it will operate further from the sun than any previous solar-powered space mission. Lucy will conduct a 12-year tour of the Trojan asteroid belt operating 530 million miles from the sun beyond the orbit of Jupiter.
With the final solar deployment test completed successfully, Lucy has reached the end of the long road towards deployment. The solar panels were manufactured by Northrop Grumman and will be the sole source of power for the spacecraft and instruments during the 12-year mission. NASA says the solar panels have to provide around 500 watts of power, which is about the same amount of energy needed to run a washing machine.
Five hundred watts is a modest amount of electricity, but the massive panels are required due to the distance the spacecraft will operate from the sun. NASA says the panels will need to deploy flawlessly in space about an hour after the spacecraft launches. Deployment tests for the solar panels have been conducted between December 2020 and February 2021 in a thermal vacuum chamber at Lockheed Martin Space.
When the solar panels were folded, they’re only four inches thick, and once expanded, each solar panel has a diameter of nearly 24 feet. While in Earth gravity, the solar panels cannot support their weight of 170 pounds each, so a precision weight offload device is used inside the test chamber for support.