Astronauts install new solar panels outside International Space Station – Spaceflight Now

Astronauts install new solar panels outside International Space Station – Spaceflight Now

NASA astronaut Josh Cassada, dressed in the red-striped spacesuit, holds the ISS Roll-Out Solar Array as he rides the space station’s robotic arm on Saturday. Credit: NASA TV/Spaceflight Now

NASA astronauts Josh Cassada and Frank Rubio departed outside the International Space Station on Saturday for a seven-hour spacewalk to install and deploy a new deployable solar panel recently delivered by a SpaceX cargo ship.

Cassada and Rubio, both on their first flights into space, began their spacewalk at 7:16 a.m. EST (1216 GMT) Saturday. The start of the excursion was officially marked when the astronauts switched their spacesuits to battery power.

The astronauts moved from the space station’s Quest airlock to the starboard side, or right side, of the lab’s solar array, where the space station’s robotic arm deployed two new ISS Roll-Out Solar Array, or iROSA, units earlier this week after they were removed from the space station. the trunk of a SpaceX Dragon cargo pod. The Dragon spacecraft delivered the solar arrays to the space station on Nov. 27, along with several tons of supplies and experiments.

The new solar panel blankets were wrapped around coils and unrolled like a yoga mat once installed on a mounting bracket on starboard 4, or S4, part of the space station’s power beam, which measures more than the length of a football field from end-to-end.

The astronauts initially worked to remove one of the two newly delivered iROSA units from the carrier by loosening bolts and launch restraints. Cassada sat on a footrest at the end of the Canadian-built robotic arm and hand-held the solar panel coils as the arm moved it toward the S4 truss.

The two spacewalkers placed the iROSA unit on a mounting bracket that had been pre-installed during a previous spacewalk. They unfolded the iROSA unit on its hinge and then installed bolts to secure it in place. Cassada and Rubio have mated electrical connectors to connect the new iROSA unit to the space station’s electrical system. Then they plugged in a Y-cable to carry the power generated by both the new roll-out solar panels and the original S4 solar panel to the lab’s power grid.

In this file photo, NASA astronauts Josh Cassada (left) and Frank Rubio (right) prepare for a spacewalk outside the International Space Station on Nov. 15. Credit: NASA

The mounting bracket connects the new arrays to the station’s power channels and rotary joints, which keep the solar wings pointed toward the sun as the spacecraft races around Earth at more than 17,000 mph.

The International Space Station has eight power channels, each fed with electrical power generated by a solar array wing that extends from the station’s truss spine. The new solar panel deployed Saturday will produce electricity for the space station’s 3A power channel.

The original solar arrays were launched on four space shuttle missions between 2000 and 2009. As expected, the efficiency of the station’s original solar panels has declined over time. NASA is upgrading the space station’s power system with the new roll-out solar panels — at a cost of $103 million — that will partially cover six of the station’s eight original solar panels.

When all six iROSA units are deployed at the station, the power system will be able to generate 215 kilowatts of electricity to support science operations for at least another ten years. The upgrade will also accommodate new commercial modules planned to launch to the space station.

The first pair of new deployable solar panels launched to the space station last year and were installed over the station’s oldest set of original solar panels on the P6 truss section, far left of the outpost’s power truss. Next year, two more iROSA units will be launched on a SpaceX resupply mission.

The new solar panels were delivered to NASA by Boeing, Redwire and a team of subcontractors.

After the new iROSA unit was mechanically and electrically integrated into the station’s S4 truss, the astronauts released the clamps to hold the deployable solar array in the launch configuration. This allowed the blankets to gradually unroll using tension energy in the composite trees that supported the solar blanket. Due to the design of the positioning mechanism, no motors are needed to drive the solar panel.

“It’s starting to move,” one of the astronauts said over the radio, sparking applause among the support team in Houston.

“That’s incredible,” Cassada said. “Yeah, it’s pretty cool,” Rubio agreed.

Each of the new iROSA wings will be tilted at a 10-degree angle to the space station’s existing solar panels. Credit: NASA

The carbon fiber support arms were rolled back against their natural shape for storage during launch.

It took about 10 minutes for the solar panel to unroll into its fully extended configuration, about 63 feet long and 20 feet wide (19 meters by 6 meters). That is about half the length and half the width of the station’s current solar panels. Despite their smaller size, each of the new arrays generate about the same amount of electricity as each of the station’s existing solar arrays.

Once the blanket unfolded, the astronauts adjusted the tension bolts to hold the iROSA blanket in place.

The astronauts then re-boarded the space station’s truss to prepare another iROSA unit, which will be installed on the left P4 truss section during a spacewalk tentatively scheduled for Dec. 19.

With their tasks completed, Cassada and Rubio returned to the Quest airlock and closed the hatch. They began repressurizing the airlolk compartment at 2:21 p.m. EST (1921 GMT), completing the 7-hour, 5-minute spacewalk.

Saturday’s spacewalk was the second in Cassada and Rubio’s careers, and the 256th spacewalk since 1998 to support the assembly and maintenance of the International Space Station.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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