SpaceX launched its 26th space station resupply mission on Saturday, sending 7,700 pounds of equipment and supplies aboard a Dragon cargo ship, including belated Thanksgiving Day treats for the lab crew, research equipment and two new roll-out solar arrays to boost the station’s performance to increase.
Due to stormy weather earlier this week, the Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage engines were delayed at 2:20 p.m. EST and the slender rocket shot away from Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center. About 12 minutes later, the Cargo Dragon was released to fly alone.
If all goes well, the spacecraft will be chasing the station early Sunday, approaching from behind and below. After looping in front of the lab and then over it, the pod moves to the space-facing port of the front Harmony module for an autonomous docking.
“Crucially important to us are the two new solar arrays that we will be performing on spacewalks…to be installed and deployed aboard the International Space Station,” said Joel Montalbano, space station program manager at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.
“And in addition to the two solar arrays, we have some life support equipment, some GPS hardware, some exercise hardware, and some medical equipment. … All in all, we’re looking for an exciting mission.”
Also on board: belated Thanksgiving treats for the station’s crew of seven, including spicy green beans, cranapple desserts, and pumpkin pie.
“Also, on our standard menu, they can have anything we would have on Thanksgiving, you know, mashed potatoes, candied yams, macaroni and cheese for those who want macaroni and cheese. So we’re going to get these guys fed very well.”
The Cargo Dragon is also loaded with research equipment, including an experiment to grow dwarf tomatoes in space, an experimental in-flight medical diagnostic kit, an experiment to test novel techniques for building large structures in microgravity, and another testing new production routes becomes important nutrients in space.
The ISS Roll-Out Solar Arrays, or IROSAs, are the third and fourth of six to be installed on the space station in a $103 million upgrade to increase the power output of the lab’s eight older, original ceilings.
The space station was built with four giant spinning solar panels, two on the right side of the lab and two on the left. Each of these four wings consists of two solar blankets extending from opposite sides of a central hub.
The first pair of original equipment blankets has been in use for more than 20 years. Subsequent wings were added in 2006, 2007 and 2009. All of them have suffered degradation through the years in space and no longer generate as much energy as they did when new.
The IROSA ceilings, about half the size of the original arrays, are more efficient and will eventually generate an additional 120 kilowatts of power. They are designed to be mounted on brackets at the base of an existing wing and extend outward at a 10 degree angle to minimize the shadow they cast on the array below.
The first two IROSA blankets were installed on the left outboard arrays – the oldest set on the station – during spacewalks in 2021. The IROSA, carried aboard the SpaceX Cargo Dragon on Saturday, will be installed onboard left and right inside wings during December spacewalks.
“The first two arrays performed extremely well,” said Matt Mickle, Boeing’s senior manager for engineering projects, in a NASA press release. “The solar cells are immensely more powerful than previous generations.”
Once all six rollout arrays are installed, overall power production will increase by 20 to 30 percent, which is roughly equivalent to the performance of the original arrays when they were new.
The last two of the six IROSA currently under contract will start next year. It is not yet known if NASA will purchase two definitive IROSAs to expand all eight of the station’s original ceilings.
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