How NASA is modernizing the outdated electrical system on the International Space Station

A larger strategy to increase the power supply of the aging space station includes three scheduled spacewalks.

As part of a long-term strategy to replace the space station’s outdated power system, astronauts will be leaving the airlock on the International Space Station (ISS) in the coming weeks for a series of three spacewalks.

The International Space Station (ISS) employs huge solar arrays to gather solar energy and transform it into usable electricity for a variety of purposes, including life support, temperature control, communications with Earth, and propulsion systems that enable the station to avoid debris.

The former ISS power system, which consisted of eight solar arrays that extended outward from the station’s exterior like wings, had produced an average of 84 to 120 kilowatts of electricity, which had been sufficient to meet the station’s power requirements up to that point. However, some of the arrays were over 20 years old and had been built with a 15-year service life in mind, so they were beginning to degrade.

The spacewalk flight director for the forthcoming spacewalk on November 15th, Anthony Vareha, stated in a press conference that “those arrays are functioning fantastic for us and providing wonderful science, but with time with natural wear and tear they get used up a little bit.” “And some of those strings that supply the arrays with power simply go offline. We have been including that as standard in our power plans for years.

The ISS has been improving its electrical system regularly to keep up with the station’s power requirements, including replacing batteries on earlier excursions. Now, additional arrays are required, and this will be the main objective of the forthcoming round of spacewalks.

Six new arrays will be added as part of the power system modifications, sitting in front of the existing arrays with an offset so that electricity may be received from both. The new arrays, also known as ISS Roll-Out Solar Arrays, or iROSAs, are smaller than the previous arrays, which were 112 feet long and 39 feet wide. They are 60 feet long and 20 feet broad. But because to advancements in solar panel technology, the new arrays can produce roughly the same amount of electricity as the first-generation ones.

Josh Cassada and Frank Rubio, two NASA astronauts, will perform their first-ever spacewalk.

But adding new arrays is not an easy task. The station’s exterior must first have support structures, referred to as mod kits, before an iROSA array may be added. Vareha explained a two-step procedure that involved first installing the scaffolding and then doing the same for the array. Two of the new iROSA arrays are currently placed on the ISS. Scaffolding is prepared for the next two, and it will be put in place before the following spacewalk on November 15th for the final two. Josh Cassada and Frank Rubio, two NASA astronauts, will perform their first-ever spacewalk.

Then, during two further spacewalks that are currently planned for November 28 and December 1, two additional arrays will be added to the scaffolding, with the goal of having all six arrays placed and operational by the middle of next year.

The new arrays will board a carrier folded up during the November 18th launch of SpaceX’s CRS-26 resupply mission, according to spacewalk officer Chris Mundy. The arrays must then be deployed after they have been installed and integrated into the power grid. The deployment takes six to ten minutes and involves spreading out the arrays like a blanket.

The spacewalkers must attach Y cables to connect the existing and new arrays to the power system in order to integrate them with it. We’ll be able to route electricity from the new iROSA array and the legacy array into the ISS power system once those are fully integrated, according to Mundy.

According to NASA, these new arrays are being tested in preparation for possible use on upcoming missions like the Artemis Moon program and to support the ongoing operations of the space station. The exact future of the space station is still unknown. Although NASA said at the end of last year that it planned to keep running the ISS through 2030, another significant partner, Russia, has frequently threatened to stop working with it, putting the ISS in a precarious situation even as it receives powerful new enhancements.

According to Fiona Turett, the flight director for one of the upcoming spacewalks, “each new array offers fresh power.” “The ISS is still expanding, and new systems and scientific research are available. In the following years, we can operate ISS to its utmost capacity thanks to this extra power.


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