ISS gets new solar array to help it meet ramping energy demands

Two astronauts deployed a new solar array on the International Space Station (ISS) over the weekend in a gruelling six-and-a-half-hour spacewalk.

The powerful new solar panels should give the station a much needed electricity boost as demand for low-gravity experiments and space tourism grows.

Nasa’s Shane Kimbrough and the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Thomas Pesquet spent 6 hours and 28 minutes on the outside of the station slowly rolling the panel into place on the far end of the left (port) side of the station’s backbone truss structure.

Once unfolded, the solar array was bolted into place and connected with cables to the station’s power supply to complete deployment.

The astronauts also removed and stowed hardware in preparation for installing another roll-out solar panel in the future in a spacewalk tentatively scheduled for 25 June.

Nasa is augmenting six of the eight existing power channels of the space station with new solar arrays to ensure a sufficient power supply is maintained for the space agency’s exploration technology demonstrations for Artemis – its upcoming manned mission to the Moon for which the UK will play a key role.

This was the eighth spacewalk for Kimbrough, the fourth for Pesquet, and the fourth they have conducted together. Kimbrough has now spent a total of 52 hours and 43 minutes spacewalking, and Pesquet’s total spacewalking time is 26 hours and 15 minutes.

“Remember: You are butterflies with biceps today,” astronaut Megan McArthur radioed from inside.

Space station crew members have conducted a total of 240 spacewalks in support of assembly and maintenance of the orbiting laboratory amounting to over 63 days working outside the station.

In November last year, the ISS surpassed its 20-year milestone of continuous human presence, providing opportunities for unique research and technological demonstrations that help prepare for long-duration missions to the Moon and Mars.

However, Nasa is considering a 2024 retirement for the ISS, which is backed mainly by the United States, Russia, Japan, Europe and Canada.

This could leave China’s Tiangong, which is still under construction, as the only functional space station in orbit around the Earth in future.

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