New solar panels undergoing installation on the International Space Station

On SpaceX’s CRS-22, the first pair of new solar panels were sent up to the ISS to give the station a little boost. Tomorrow two astronauts will conduct a third spacewalk to continue installing the station’s newest addition.

The aging solar panels of the International Space Station have had their power production lowering every year. The power production levels are not at a critical point yet, but a boost would be beneficial. That’s where the ISS Roll-Out Solar Array (iROSA) comes in. The first pair of iROSAs has been delivered, with the first one installed. Two more pair sets will be delivered on Cargo Dragon flights coming soon.

Designed with a 15-year service life, the ISS solar panels have had steadily reduced power outputs. The current solar panels produce ~160 Kilowatts of power in direct sunlight, with about half that power charging the station’s batteries. The ISS will produce ~215 Kilowatts of power after the installation of all 6 iROSAs. That is approximately the amount of power the current solar panels produced when they were first installed!

Rendering of the ISS with all 6 iROSAs | Image Credit: Boeing

The first pair of iROSAs delivered to the ISS flew aboard the CRS-22 mission launched on June 3rd. This was the first of three Cargo Dragon flights that will deliver the 6 iROSAs to the ISS.

iROSA Installation Process

Each iROSA will be installed on the existing structure used for sun tracking and power distribution. The iROSAs are delivered to the ISS in the unpressurized trunk of a Cargo Dragon vehicle and are removed using the CanadaArm. Ideally, each panel will require 2 spacewalks: One to prep the installation site and the other to install the iROSA.

iROSA Wing 1 Assembly | Image Credit: Deployable Space Systems

The first of these iROSAs has been installed and took place over 2 spacewalks. The first walk occurred on June 16th and lasted about 7 hours and 15 minutes. NASA Astronaut Shane Kimbrough had issues with the Display and Controls Module in his spacesuit, which was resolved by a system restart. They completed the installation of the iROSA in its bracket and began planning for a second walk.

The second spacewalk began on June 20th and lasted 6 hours and 28 minutes. During this walk, final preparations were made for the deployment, and the first iROSA was unfurled. The astronauts tightened tensioning screws to lock the iROSA into place. This concluded the spacewalk.

Time-lapse of the first iROSA deployment

The next spacewalk scheduled to prepare for the second iROSA installation is currently scheduled for around 8 AM EDT, June 25th. This spacewalk will follow a similar process as the first walk for the first iROSA, hopefully with fewer spacesuit issues.

How to watch the spacewalks

You can tune into NASA TV live to watch the astronauts conduct their work a few different ways.

  • Cable/Satellite TV: NASA TV channels are “free-to-air”, so most providers carry them. Check with your local service provider to get a channel number.
  • Online: You can watch NASA TV on the NASA website or the NASA YouTube channel

Be sure to monitor the NASA Twitter account for updates regarding the status and timing of these upcoming spacewalks

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