In the next few weeks, astronauts will perform three spacewalks, part of a long-term plan to Upgrading the old power system of the International Space Stationand will leave the International Space Station (ISS) airlock.
- Roscosmos self-sufficiency in the production of the Russian space station
- China’s Shenzhou-14 mission to finalize Tiangong space station
Upgrading the old electrical system of the space station
As you know, the International Space Station consists of large solar panels to collect energy from the sun and convert it into electricity that can be used in the International Space Station (from the oxygen distribution system and temperature control of this station to communications with the Earth and propulsion systems towards the outer atmosphere uses so that this station can perform the desired maneuvers to escape from space debris).
The old power system of the International Space Station consists of eight solar panels that protrude from the space station like the wings of a bird, and until today it was able to meet the power needs of the space station by producing an average of 84 to 120 kilowatts of electricity. However, some of the panels were more than 20 years old, having originally been designed for a useful life of 15 years, so they were showing signs of wear and tear.
Of course, you should keep in mind that this does not mean that the old panels will suddenly stop or fail; Although the space station has faced electrical problems in the past, the main problem is that they have gradually decreased in efficiency over time, and with the large number of more complex scientific experiments being conducted on the station, the station’s power needs are increasing.
Anthony Varha, space flight director for the upcoming November 15 spacewalk, explained at a press conference:
Those panels work great for us and do a great job, but over time they start to wear out and some of the strings (power nodes) that generate power in those panels go offline. Of course, this is a standard thing that we have included in our power plans for years.
The ISS has continually upgraded its electrical system to keep up with its power needs, including battery replacements on previous missions. Now, new panels need to be added to get everything ready for the next step, which is the main goal of future spacewalks.
The power system upgrade includes the addition of six new panels that sit in front of the older panels with a single delay, allowing power to be drawn from both panels. At 60 feet long and 20 feet wide, these panels are called ISS Roll-Out Solar Arrays, or iROSA, which are smaller than the old panels, which are 112 feet long and 39 feet wide. However, advances in solar panel technology mean that new panels can produce roughly the same amount of electricity as the original.
Of course, you should keep in mind that adding new panels is not a simple process. Before the iROSA panels can be added, support structures called mod kits are required to be placed on the outside of the station. In an article, Mr. Vereha explained a two-part process that involves first installing scaffolding and then installing a panel inside. Currently, the ISS has already installed two new iROSA panels. Scaffolding is ready for the other two, and the last two will be installed soon, starting with the upcoming spacewalk on November 15. This will be the first spacewalk for NASA astronauts Josh Casada and Frank Rubio.
The next two spacewalks, tentatively scheduled for Nov. 28 and Dec. 1, will install two more panels on existing scaffolding, with the goal of having all six arrays up and running by the middle of next year.
The newly folded panels have been transferred to a SpaceX CRS-26 spacecraft that is scheduled to launch to the International Station on November 18, said spacewalk officer Chris Mundy. The panels must then be installed, integrated into the electrical system, and deployed on the station. Deploying these panels involves unfolding them like a blanket in a process that takes 6 to 10 minutes.
To integrate with the power system, spacewalkers need to install Y-cables to connect the old and new panels to the power system. “Once they’re fully connected, we’ll be able to route power from the old panel and the new iROSA panel to the ISS power system,” Mundy said.
NASA says the new panels are being tested for potential use in future missions, such as the Artemis moon program, as well as to help continue operations of the space station. As for the space station, its exact future is still unclear. While NASA announced at the end of last year that it plans to continue operating the ISS until 2030, Russia, another major partner in the development of the space station, has repeatedly threatened to withdraw its cooperation and abandon the International Space Station. Even as it gets powerful new updates, it puts it at a disadvantage.
For one of the upcoming spacewalks, Spacewalk Flight Director Fiona Tourette said:
Each new array brings new power. The ISS continues to grow and we have more science and more systems online. This additional power will ensure that we can operate the ISS at its maximum capacity for years to come.