back to article Spacewalk veterans take a trip outside the ISS to pump up the power with new solar arrays

International Space Station (ISS) astronauts are venturing out of the orbiting outpost today to replace its ageing solar arrays. It is an international effort, with NASA's Shane Kimbrough and ESA's Thomas Pesquet exiting the lab's Quest airlock to deploy the first of six arrays (dubbed ISS Roll-Out Solar Arrays – iROSAs) that …

  1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    The awesome power of LEGO

    They can get a space walk just to force people to buy the new ISS kit

  2. bombastic bob Silver badge
    Devil

    Solar Panel long-term performance

    The ISS is a good test environment for solar panels in a worst-case environment.

    * frequently heating/cooling every 2.5 hours [or whatever it is] as they orbit

    * exclusive source of power for ISS and must be reliable

    * "up there" for years, not so easy to replace or repair

    So far they seem to be doing very well. Hopefully the replacement/upgrade panels will outperform and outlast these, as the tech develops.

    (I would like to see a method of producing power via solar wind, especially for interplanetary craft)

    Solar cell disposal, however, is another problem entirely. Recycling is best (due to things like CE prohibited materials, etc.) but can it be broken into panels and returned via Dragon capsules? That's where a Space Shuttle would be more effective.. (ok these are staying up there for now but eventually)

    And while they're at it, they should send up some additional modules to go with the extended power availability... and maybe some (laser, TIG) welding equipment and laser or plasma cutters (if not already there). I'd like to see them get a head start on orbital construction on a much larger scale.

    then they'll need MORE panels, MORE modules, and MORE trips to/from ISS. But when the ISS is all connected, you have one "thing" orbiting, i.e. easier to control the orbit.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      The ISS is going to be scheduled to be de-orbited in the not-so-distant future, if I'm not mistaken, so there will be no more modules sent up any more. More scientific experiments, probably, in the time it has left, but they won't be needing plasma cutters any time soon.

      I wonder what the de-orbit plan is ?

      1. John Doe 12

        >>I wonder what the de-orbit plan is ?

        With any luck it will be steered to rain down on Beijing as payback for the Chinese raining their space trash over the rest of the planet.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          The thing about the ISS is that to reach it from Kazakhstan it's in an orbit that covers the continental USA and most of Europe, as well as India and China - so an opportunity to hit lots of people.

      2. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Meh

        de-orbit of small things can be absorbed by the atmosphere as long as they don't have anything REALLY toxic or dangerous in them. The large amounts of things like Selenium and Cadmium in solar panels might cause some level of contamination depending on where the particles end up falling. Over the ocean, not so bad. Over a large body of water that supplies drinking water for people and water for farming, not so good.

        And de-orbit of BIG things (Skylab, Mir) hasn't gone so well in the past...

        (keeping the ISS alive and expanding may prove to be the better alternative, at least in MY bombastic opinion)

    2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Solar Panel long-term performance

      >The ISS is a good test environment for solar panels in a worst-case environment.

      On the other hand

      No snow,

      No leaves,

      No dust,

      No pigeon shit,

      No wind,

      No footballs

      1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: Solar Panel long-term performance

        No income tax.

        No VAT.

        No money back..

        No guarantee.

        Icon - Pint down the Nags.

  3. Elledan Silver badge

    ISS' swansong?

    Assuming that the ISS will truly be deorbited a few years from now, it seems rather obvious at this point that this would mean having only a Chinese space station in LEO by the end of this decade. With likely a Chinese moon station to follow by the next decade. Meanwhile the US is wasting NASA's money on SLS and Russia's own space station seems unlikely to materialise.

    This would mean a near future in which China would be essentially sharing space with SpaceX, while cordially inviting ESA and Roscosmos astronauts/cosmonauts over for a jolly good time at their facilities. But not NASA astronauts, as US Congress has decreed that this is inconceivable.

    Like or hate China, but their highly focused and well-funded space programme provides a glimpse into what NASA (and ESA...) could be today if they had the same level of vision and funding behind them. Something which SpaceX is hammering home as well. Just having money isn't enough when you're going to waste it on the retirement plans of congress and other critters.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: ISS' swansong?

      The Chinese station is small and wont be continually manned - so less than the USA/USSR were doing in the 70s.

      The only point in having people in LEO is to learn how to have people in LEO, so not having any people currently there doesn't really cost you anything or give control to China. Not having a person continually on the peak of Everest doesn't take away your ability to climb Everest.

      Continuing to support a LEO space station - initially intended to keep cold war rocket scientists gainfully employed when the cold war ended - as opposed to manned Mars mission seems short sighted.

    2. rg287 Silver badge

      Re: ISS' swansong?

      Assuming that the ISS will truly be deorbited a few years from now, it seems rather obvious at this point that this would mean having only a Chinese space station in LEO by the end of this decade.

      To be fair, this depends on your definition of space station.

      Each SpaceX StarShip will have approximately the same internal volume as the ISS does now. Albeit they don't (as standard) have anything like the number of docking ports, remote manipulators (Canadarm/Dexter) or other science-oriented facilities.

      Compared with the hundred-billion dollar process of building and launching ISS in pieces, if NASA want a new LEO space station, the easy route will be to simply ask SpaceX to fit out one or more Starships for science operations and long-term habitation (which they will be doing anyway for Mars Transit), launch to LEO and dock them together. Indeed, you could launch a dedicated docking bus on a freight-Starship which arbitrary habitation variants could dock to.

      Depending on cost, it might even be practicable for a crew to fly up in their own Starship, dock and have access to other vessels and "station power" and then go home in their Ship (rather than doing crew changes via small capsules as present), bringing back science experiments whole and allowing periodic updates/overhauls of hardware and living quarters on the ground rather than having astronauts do it on-orbit.

      A strategy of assembling ships into a station would likely be the basis for a Mars space station should such a thing be found necessary. Starship is sufficiently massive that in the near future the architecture may flip so that "space stations" only consist of a dedicated docking hub/port facility (possibly with power and other amenities) with the majority of volume accounted for by the (semi-permanently) docked ships rather than small crew capsules docking to larger permanent stations.

      1. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Devil

        Re: ISS' swansong?

        Is there any reason that what you propose could NOT simply extend the existing ISS? One "connection module" at a docking port and you end up with "the old station" attached to the new, a kind of "city planning" if you think about it.

        1. rg287 Silver badge

          Re: ISS' swansong?

          Is there any reason that what you propose could NOT simply extend the existing ISS? One "connection module" at a docking port and you end up with "the old station" attached to the new, a kind of "city planning" if you think about it.

          That's kind of what they're planning with some of their commercial partners. Some new-space companies are looking at launching modules to the ISS which can borrow station power/utilities but develop revenue immediately as a science lab or whatnot. Then over time they'll launch additional utility modules on with the intent of undocking whenever ISS finally goes EOL and become their own independent station (or redock with other private modules). Axiom Space is the main name at the moment.

          Not quite the same as ships forming a raft around a common hub, but one of the ways NASA is helping lower the bar to entry for private operators.

          Sooner or later though, the core ISS will develop enough leaks and have enough stuff breaking that it'll be cheaper to deorbit and replace than keep going.

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