JUN 09, 2017 6:22 AM PDT

New Folding Solar Array System Sent to the ISS for Testing

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

SpaceX sent a Falcon 9 to space earlier this month with a previously-used commercial Dragon capsule attached to it. It broke a record for modern spaceflight, as a commercial capsule has never went into space more than once, until now.

While it did undergo refurbishing, just like a used Falcon 9 rocket would before flying for a second time, the Dragon capsule was still carrying important supplies and experiments for International Space Station astronauts.

Among the science experiments is a new foldable solar array system that could someday power our future spacecraft. Dubbed ROSA (Roll Out Solar Array), these solar arrays are packed away from technological origami until they’re needed; then, they deploy to absorb the Sun’s energy to convert it into power.

An artist's impression of a future spacecraft utilizing a roll-out solar array.

Image Credit: Space Systems Loral (SSL) via NASA

Because they are more compact when folded up, NASA could pack more solar power into their spacecraft without giving up too much valuable cargo space inside of the shipping containers that send them into space. That said, we can get more power out of our spacecraft, opening a new realm of possibilities.

Related: Juno spacecraft breaks record for most distance traveled on solar power

“We get more power by using larger solar arrays. But efficiently packaging them for launch and then deploying those big arrays by a spacecraft has been the challenge.” Al Tadros, SSL vice president for Civil and Department of Defense Business explains.

“What the work on ROSA has done is develop a technique to deploy very large surface areas of flexible solar arrays, doing that efficiently with low risk. It’s more power without increasing the mass dramatically.”

The solar arrays don’t fold up how you might think; instead, they’re wound around a spindle similarly to the way a roll of packaging tape is rolled around a cardboard cylinder. From there, it can unwind. This cylindrical shape will make it more compact and easily shipped via cylindrical shipping containers on modern commercial rocket systems.

One of the possible deployment methods is illustrated in the animation below:

NASA has been pondering about ways this kind of technology could be used, and according to the space agency, it might be perfect for asteroid redirect missions. For that reason, they’ve teamed up with Space Systems Loral (SSL) to make its development happen.

Having the solar array tucked away would enable the spacecraft to get to its destination without critical parts of the solar array being damaged along the way, and then it could be deployed to power ion thrusters that could tug potentially-dangerous asteroids into safer new orbits.

Related: How solar-powered electric propulsion could be used for asteroid redirects and Mars missions

ROSA also has potential for future missions to Mars, as we already know that getting supplies to Mars is going to be both difficult and expensive, so all the space we can save equates to saved money and a safer and more prepared venture to the red planet.

ROSA will be deployed at the International Space Station to test out its folding and un-folding capabilities, and also to ensure its longevity while in space. The end result should be nothing more than rewarding considering all the work that has gone into developing this new kind of solar power system.

Source: NASA via Popular Science

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
OCT 15, 2019
Space & Astronomy
OCT 15, 2019
SpaceX Will Need to Demonstrate a Dragon Capsule Abort for NASA
NASA’s Commercial Crew initiative enabled third-party contractors such as Boeing and SpaceX to develop platforms that may be used in future crewed mi...
JAN 05, 2020
Space & Astronomy
JAN 05, 2020
It's Finally the Year of the Mars 2020 Mission
It’s officially 2020, and with that in mind, anyone paying attention to NASA’s launch schedule should know already that the Mars 2020 rover is...
JAN 19, 2020
Space & Astronomy
JAN 19, 2020
A Brief Summary of Everything We Know About Pluto
Pluto was once considered one of the solar system’s planets but was later downgraded to the status of ‘dwarf’ planet after several more s...
JAN 28, 2020
Space & Astronomy
JAN 28, 2020
An Ambitious New Mission to Explore the Sun's Poles
A plethora of spacecraft have photographed the Sun, but every one of those photographs has been snapped from the rather limited perspective of the Sun&rsqu...
FEB 02, 2020
Space & Astronomy
FEB 02, 2020
NASA Officially Retires the Spitzer Space Telescope
NASA is always sending spacecraft into space to explore the universe around us; be it the close-proximity stellar neighborhood of our own solar system or o...
FEB 17, 2020
Space & Astronomy
FEB 17, 2020
SpaceX Launches More Starlink Satellites, But Fails First Stage Landing
SpaceX launched yet another one of its renowned Falcon 9 rockets on Monday, this time carrying a plethora of its Starlink satellites that will fortify the...
Loading Comments...