Yes that’s right. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and SpaceX have successfully launched two roll-out solar panels arrays to the International Space Station (ISS)
These arrays, known as International Space Station Roll Out Solar Arrays (IROSA), were part of 28th commercial resupply mission with SpaceX. Alongside other measurement instruments, the arrays were carried by a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft powered by a Falcon 9 rocket.
The purpose of these arrays is to enhance the energy production capability of the microgravity complex on the space station. With the addition of the new arrays, the ISS will have a potential increase of up to 60 kW in energy capacity, supplementing the existing 250 kW from previous IROSA installations.
Credit Image: NASA, SpaceX Launch Solar Arrays, Cargo to Space Station
The roll-out solar arrays (ROSA) being deployed possess several advantageous qualities. They feature a compact design, making them more cost-effective, and they also come equipped with autonomous capabilities. These attributes enhance their suitability for a wide range of scientific and commercial missions, spanning from low-Earth orbit to even interplanetary travel.
The ROSA technology is a product of Redwire Space and was initially developed by Deployable Space Systems (DSS) with support from NASA. Starting in 2009, NASA has provided funding for various stages of DSS’s work on ROSA, including its conceptualization, development, and subsequent successful demonstrations.
Furthermore, ROSA has been utilized in operational missions and shows great potential for cutting-edge applications. In 2021, Redwire acquired DSS, ensuring the continued integration of ROSA into both NASA missions and commercial ventures.
According to Ken Steele, the vice president of business development at Redwire, designing technology for space requires transforming simple concepts into systems that can withstand the intense conditions of a rocket launch. This process is driven by the need to ensure the successful journey of the technology through a controlled explosion.
NASA highlights that the Sun serves as the most significant power source in space, generating an immense amount of energy surpassing humanity’s consumption over the past 70 years. Solar panels are commonly employed in spacecraft to harness this continuous solar energy, providing power for various functions such as thermal control and operating payloads.
Credit Image: NASA Space X launched two roll-out solar arrays to the International Space Station (ISS)
However, optimizing solar panel designs has proven challenging due to two critical factors: size and reliability. The size of the panels directly impacts launch costs, while long-term reliability is essential for withstanding the harsh space environment, including temperature fluctuations, radiation exposure, and potential impacts from micrometeoroids. Striking a balance between size and reliability remains a significant consideration in solar panel design.
NASA recognized the limitations of standard solar panel designs, which tend to be rigid, large, heavy, and complex to operate. In light of this, NASA acknowledged the potential of ROSA to enhance solar panel design for deployment in space and beyond.
Among the cargo being transported by NASA and SpaceX are devices aimed at studying thunderstorms and assessing the viability of plant seeds that are grown in space and later returned to Earth. These investigations could yield valuable insights into cultivating multiple generations of plants for sustenance and other purposes during future space missions.
The cargo mission also includes devices for studying the effects of space on telomeres, which are genetic components safeguarding human chromosomes. While telomeres typically shorten with age, researchers have observed their lengthening in space. Additionally, the cargo shipment contains measurement tools designed to monitor glacial melting and the impact of cosmic radiation.
In a recent development, researchers at Caltech successfully beamed energy back to Earth using solar arrays deployed in space. This innovative project involved a constellation of modular spacecraft equipped with photovoltaic systems to capture sunlight, convert it into electricity, and transmit the energy wirelessly over long distances to areas in need. According to Caltech, this method might be useful in rural areas without enough transmission infrastructure.