NASA announced on January 11 that six new Boeing-built solar arrays would be delivered to the International Space Station (ISS) starting in 2021.
Designed for a 15-year service life, one pair of the orbiting outpost’s four pairs of solar arrays has now been in continuous operation for over 20 years. With a second pair reaching its 15-year service life in 2021, the station’s power current bank of solar arrays are showing signs of degradation.
To ensure that the station continues to generate sufficient power for operations, NASA has signed a modified ISS Vehicle Sustaining Engineering contract for the construction of six next-generation solar arrays.
The construction of the station’s new solar arrays will be managed by prime contractors Boeing. The canister and frame that will unfurl to hold the new arrays in place will be built by subcontractor Deployable Space Systems while the XTJ Prime solar cells will be supplied by Spectrolab. The XTJ Prime solar cells are the same that Boeing uses aboard its Starliner spacecraft.
The new 19-meter-by-6-meter arrays are designed to produce a combined 120 kilowatts of power. The arrays will be installed in front of six of the current arrays in order to utilise the station’s existing sun tracking, power distribution, and channelization.
In addition to the power generated by the six new solar arrays, the remaining uncovered solar array pair and the partially covered original arrays will continue to generate around 95 kilowatts of power. This will give the station the capacity to generate around 215 kilowatts, significantly more than the current 160 kilowatts.
The six new solar arrays will be transported to the ISS in the unpressurised trucks of SpaceX Cargo Dragon spacecraft over three resupply missions starting in 2021. Each new solar array will require one spacewalk to prepare the worksite and one to install the solar array.