Cygnus solar panel cannot be implemented
WASHINGTON — NASA is considering whether it is safe for a Northrop Grumman Cygnus cargo spacecraft to approach the International Space Station, as one of its two solar panels has failed to deploy hours after its Nov. 7 launch.
The Cygnus spacecraft, which piloted the NG-18 mission for NASA, would be two circular UltraFlex solar panels about three hours after launch on an Antares rocket from Virginia. The arrays produce 3.5 kilowatts of power for the spacecraft.
However, in a statement released more than six hours after launch, NASA said only one of the two solar panels had been deployed. “Northrop Grumman is collecting data on the deployment of the second array and is working closely with NASA,” the agency said.
According to the NASA statement, Northrop said the Cygnus had enough power to meet the station as planned in early November 9, so that the station’s robotic arm could capture and dock it. NASA said it was “reviewing” that information.
“It had an array that wasn’t deployed, so Northrop Grumman is now working on deploying that, and of course we’re assessing catch and docking in case it’s not deployed,” said Dina Contella, Operations Integration manager for the ISS. at NASA, at a previously scheduled Nov. 7 briefing about a series of upcoming spacewalks at the station.
She stated that the array goes through stages of implementation. “The team is trying to review the data they have and figure out their next steps,” she said, with Northrop leading those efforts.
If the array is not deployed before Cygnus arrives at the ISS, Contella said the station program would like to better understand the array’s state before proceeding with the capture. “When it eventually gets partially deployed, it can wobble when you catch or dock, or it can open up,” she said. “Those are the kinds of things and risk assessments that we will do, if necessary, as it gets closer.”
She added that it’s possible Cygnus could hang out near the station if needed to have more time to study the solar panel problem, though the details of how long it could do so depends on where. NASA and Northrop decided to stick in the approach. “I’m hopeful we’ll deploy the other array.”
While the solar arrays on previous Cygnus missions have been deployed normally, a larger version of the arrays had a problem on NASA’s Lucy asteroid mission launched in October 2021. One of the two circular arrays failed to fully deploy and snap into place shortly after launch. Engineers spent months studying the problem, making several attempts to fully deploy the array, which made some progress, but did not lock the array. NASA said in June that, while not fully deployed, the array was stable and would generate enough power for the spacecraft.
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