The second pair of the space station’s new solar panels is scheduled to launch on a Dragon cargo ship – Spaceflight Now

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Cargo Dragon capsule at Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center. Author: SpaceX

The second pair of new retractable solar panels to upgrade the International Space Station’s power system is set to launch Tuesday aboard a SpaceX Dragon cargo ship. Astronauts will help deploy the power-generating solar wings during a pair of spacewalks next week.

SpaceX plans to launch the company’s 26th Dragon resupply mission to the space station on a Falcon 9 rocket at 3:54 p.m. EST (2054 GMT) on Tuesday, weather permitting. But there’s only a 10% chance of acceptable weather conditions for liftoff from Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, with rain and heavy clouds expected over Florida’s Space Coast.

If the mission does not launch on Tuesday, the launch will be delayed until Saturday at 14:20 EST (1920 GMT). SpaceX will not be able to launch a cargo mission during the Thanksgiving holiday, a busy travel period in the United States, because the Federal Aviation Administration wants to keep the airspace free for commercial airlines.

Assuming the Dragon capsule lifts off on Tuesday, it will dock with the Harmony module on the International Space Station at 5:57 a.m. EST (10:57 a.m. GMT) on Wednesday. Astronauts on the space station will open the hatches and begin unpacking the cargo in the sealed compartment of the Dragon spacecraft.

The mission is the 26th SpaceX Dragon cargo flight in a series of multibillion-dollar commercial resupply contracts with NASA. This mission has been designated CRS-26 and will debut the new Dragon cargo capsule in SpaceX’s fleet of reusable Dragon spacecraft. The CRS-26 mission will also use the Falcon 9 launch vehicle’s new first stage.

This is SpaceX’s sixth cargo mission under the latest CRS contract, which carries the Dragon cargo program through the CRS-35 mission, scheduled for sometime in 2026.

SpaceX says the new Dragon spacecraft, launching as part of the CRS-26 mission, will be the third and final cargo spacecraft in the company’s latest-generation Dragon fleet. SpaceX has four human-rated Crew Dragon spacecraft, and last week the company announced it will build another Crew Dragon for astronaut missions starting in 2024.

The CRS-26 mission carries about 7,700 pounds (3.5 metric tons) of equipment, materials and experiments for the space station and the seven-person crew living aboard the complex. The largest payload item is a second pair of NASA’s new retractable solar arrays to augment the space station’s power system.

Last year, the Kennedy Space Center rolled out two ISS solar arrays in the space station’s processing center. Credit: NASA/Frank Michaud

The cargo of the CRS-26 mission includes clothing, food and hygiene items for the space station crew, as well as a variety of experiments, including a demonstration of growing dwarf tomatoes in the orbiting laboratory. Previous plant-growing experiments, part of the “Vega” science research series, focused on growing green leafy vegetables to provide astronauts with a source of fresh food. The experiments are also gathering data for future deep space expeditions, such as flights to the Moon and Mars, where astronauts could grow their own food.

“We’re testing tomatoes by looking at the effect of the light spectrum on how well the crop grows, how tasty and nutritious the tomatoes are, and the microbial activity on the fruit and the plant,” says Joya Masa, NASA Life Sciences Scientist and Principal Investigator of the Tomato Experiment. called Veg-05. “We are also studying the general effects of the cultivation, care and consumption of agricultural crops on the health of the crew. All of this will provide valuable data for future space exploration.”

The CRS-26 mission will also deliver the Lunar Microscope, a suite that includes a portable hand-held microscope that can help astronauts collect medical images of their own blood samples and then send the data back to Earth for analysis by flight surgeons. The mission also includes a technical demo experiment called Extrusion, which tests how liquid resin in microgravity can create shapes that cannot be made on Earth due to gravity. “Using these shapes could allow structures like space stations, solar arrays, and equipment to be built in space,” says NASA.

Another experiment on the CRS-26 mission will study how yogurt, sour milk, and a yeast-based drink can be used to produce nutrients to support the crew’s health during long-duration spaceflight.

Eight small CubeSats are stored inside the Dragon spacecraft for NASA, the Canadian Space Agency and companies in Italy and Taiwan. The CubeSats will be transferred by the space station crew to the Japanese gateway for entry into low Earth orbit using the Nanoracks device.

The Dragon spacecraft’s rear cargo bay contains two retractable solar panels that will be mounted outside the space station.

“For us, the two new solar arrays that we will be doing in open space in late November and early December to install and deploy aboard the International Space Station are very important,” said Joel Montalbano, NASA’s ISS program manager. “In addition to the two solar arrays to be delivered to SpaceX-26, we are delivering life support equipment, some GPS equipment, training equipment and medical equipment. This mission will dock with the International Space Station for about 45 days … All in all, we are looking forward to an exciting mission.”

As crew members inside the space station unpack cargo from Dragon’s inner cabin, the station’s Canadian robotic arm will reach into the cargo ship’s trunk to remove two new solar panels. The arrays are rolled up on spools, and together they weigh more than a ton. Two astronauts will venture outside the space station for a pair of spacewalks to help deploy the new solar arrays.

Astronauts Thomas Peske and Shane Kimbra (left) work with the ISS’s solar array during a spacewalk last year. Author: Oleg Novitsky/Raskosmas

The first two ISS Deployable Solar Arrays, or iROSAs, were launched in June 2021 as part of SpaceX’s CRS-22 resupply mission. They were deployed during a pair of spacewalks later that month on the P6 segment on the left side, or far left end, of the station’s solar farm. One of the iROSA arrays launched on CRS-26 will go on the port side truss segment P4 directly behind the P6 section, while the other solar array will be mounted on the starboard truss area S4.

The iROSA array extends over six of the station’s eight existing solar panels, angled to partially cover the old solar panels. Fully deployed, the retractable solar arrays stretch 63 feet long and 20 feet wide (19 by 6 meters), roughly half the length and half the width of the station’s current solar arrays. Despite their smaller size, each of the new arrays will produce roughly the same amount of electricity as each of the original solar panels.

A mounting bracket connects the new arrays to the station’s power ducts and swivel joints that keep the solar wings pointed at the sun as the spacecraft races around Earth at more than 17,000 miles per hour. Ahead of the CRS-26 mission, the astronauts completed a spacewalk to install mounting brackets for the new solar arrays.

The International Space Station has eight power channels, each of which is powered by electricity generated from a single solar array wing that extends from the station’s backbone. The original solar panels were launched during four space shuttle missions between 2000 and 2009. As expected, the efficiency of solar panels has deteriorated over time.

When all six iROSA units are deployed on the station, the power system will be capable of generating 215 kilowatts of electricity to support at least another ten years of scientific operations. The upgrade will also accommodate new commercial modules that are planned to be launched to the space station.

The new deployable solar arrays were developed by Deployable Space Systems in Goleta, Calif., under contract to Boeing, which oversees the design and maintenance of the space station under a separate contract with NASA. Deployable Space Systems was acquired last year by Redwire, a space infrastructure company based in Jacksonville, Florida.

The solar panels are giving the space station one of its most significant mid-life upgrades since NASA and its international partners completed a large-scale assembly of the complex in 2011. Six new solar wings, combined with 24 new lithium-ion batteries launched to the station in a series of Japanese resupply missions, will help ensure the laboratory’s power system can support continued operations until 2030.

The last pair of retractable solar arrays are scheduled to launch on SpaceX’s CRS-28 cargo mission next year.

At the end of the CRS-26 mission, the Dragon reusable capsule will detach from the station and head for a parachute landing off the coast of Florida in early January with several tons of cargo.

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Follow Stephen Clarke on Twitter: @StephenClark1. The second pair of the space station’s new solar panels is scheduled to launch on a Dragon cargo ship – Spaceflight Now

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