Spacewalking astronauts install second upgraded solar array

6 mins read

French astronaut Thomas Pesquet and NASA crewmate Shane Kimbrough floated back outside the International Space Station Friday and deployed a 60-foot-long roll-out solar array, the second of six new blankets being installed to upgrade the lab’s power system and offset age-related degradation.

“It looks like the deployment is complete,” Pesquet radioed, watching the array unroll itself six hours after the spacewalk began. “The motion has stopped.”

After adjusting the tension on the new array, the astronauts collected their tools and made their way back to the space station’s Quest airlock, wrapping up a six-hour 45-minute excursion.

The first two ISS roll-out solar arrays, or iROSAs, were delivered to the lab complex aboard as SpaceX Dragon cargo ship on June 5. The astronauts originally planned to install them in a pair of spacewalks, but it took two outings, one on June 16 and another on June 20, to get the first new array installed.

That panel was mounted on a fixture at the base of an existing solar wing on the far left, port 6 segment of the station’s power truss. The P6 truss segment supports the lab’s two oldest wings, feeding electricity into two of the lab’s eight major power circuits: 2B and 4B.

The first iROSA was tied into the P6/2B array, tilted away from the original wing by 10 degrees. The second iROSA was attached in similar fashion to the P6/4B wing.

As the name suggests, the new panels are designed to deploy from spools, unrolling on their own when tightly wound carbon composite support struts on either side are released. Unlike the initial spacewalk, when the astronauts ran into an interference issue with the first iROSA, there were no problems Friday.

NASA plans to install iROSA panels on six of the space station’s eight original solar wings, all of which have suffered age-related degradation, including rocket plume deposits from visiting cargo and crew ships and impacts from micrometeoroids.

Each new iROSA blanket will generate 20 kilowatts of power and, acting in concert with the original arrays, boost power output back to factory fresh levels.

“So the new arrays are installed on top, over in front of the existing solar arrays,” said Dana Weigel, deputy manager of the space station program at the Johnson Space Center. “The exposed portion of the old arrays will still be generating power in parallel with the new arrays.

“Those new iROSA arrays have solar cells on them that are more efficient than our original cells, they have a higher energy density, and together in combination, they generate more power than what our original array, when it was new, did on its own.”

The six roll-out arrays will generate a combined 120 kilowatts of power. Combined with 95 kilowatts generated by the unshaded portions of the original arrays, the station’s total solar power output will reach 215 kilowatts when the upgrade is complete.

With Friday’s spacewalk, astronauts and cosmonauts have now logged 1,519 hours and 41 minutes working outside the International Space Station.

It was the ninth spacewalk so far this year, the fifth for Pesquet and the ninth for Kimbrough, whose total time working in the vacuum of space now stands at 59 hours and 28 minutes, moving him into a tie for sixth among the world’s most experienced spacewalkers.

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