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Space station solar panels: one fixed, one to go

nasaspacewalk.jpgAfter a daring fix of a solar panel, construction of the international space station is, for now, back on track (NYTimes; BBC)

Faced with two power problems – a ripped solar panel array and a potentially gummed-up joint that would prevent a different solar panel from tracking the Sun – NASA officials decided to fix the more pressing problem of the rips (picture from NASA). This had happened when the solar panel array caught up on a guide wire as it was being unfurled last week. While the panels still drew power, the tears undermined the structural integrity of the array.

On Saturday, astronaut Scott Parazynski, clinging to the end of a robotic arm, ‘fixed’ the panels during a seven-hour spacewalk (picture from NASA). Parazynski snipped the snarled wires and patched up the tears with impromptu ‘cuff links’ – contraptions that snapped over the tears to hold the panel together.


NASA international space station program manager Mike Suffredini said the panel is “now functioning as expected”, according to Space.com.

But they still have a problem: metallic shavings have been found in a joint on an arm that allows a different set of solar panels to track the Sun. Until NASA can determine the cause of the shavings (probably some metal-on-metal rubbing) and how to fix the problem, that arm will remain fixed in place and those solar panels will draw only a fraction of their intended power. The crew had intended to devote a spacewalk to a more detailed inspection of this issue, but that was delayed in favour of Saturday’s operation.

The next piece of the space station – the European-made Columbus module – is due to be installed in December. Suffredini told the NY Times that “the station’s current power set-up, with one set of two arrays rotating and the right-side arrays parked but drawing a reasonable amount of sunlight, should give the station enough power to get through the December mission and perhaps well beyond.”

A Japanese laboratory, Kibo, is scheduled for delivery in February 2008. Space.com indicates that the joint won’t become a problem until after Kibo’s delivery. But Reuters quotes Suffredini as saying that if the joint isn’t fixed on the next trip, Kibo might be threatened:

On Monday, the space shuttle backed away from the space station. It is due to land Wednesday afternoon in Florida.

See previous Great Beyond posts:

More space station woes – October 31, 2007

Power problems for space station – October 29, 2007

Image: NASA

Comments

  1. Solar Panels said:

    I think it’s awesome that a technology once available only to space agencies can now be used to save energy and provide for our homes.

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  2. Solar Panels said:

    Does that mean in the future we might not have to fuel them up but only before returning to earth and maybe not even that?