CE CANAVERAL, Florida. () – On Sunday, space pedestrians dared to install support frames for new, high-efficiency solar panels that will arrive at the International Space Station later this year.
NASA’s Kate Rubins and Victor Glover emerged from an orbiting lab that towed 8-foot (2.5-meter) duffle-sized bags filled with hundreds of pounds of mounting brackets and struts. The device was so large and clumsy that it had to be taken as art just to get through the hatch.
“We know it’s super tight there,” Mission Control said.
The astronauts aimed their unusually large load at the far left side of the station, careful not to hit anything. There are the oldest and most degraded solar wings of the station.
With more people and experiments flying on the space station, according to NASA, more energy will be needed for everything to work. The six new solar panels – which SpaceX is to deliver in pairs next year – should increase the station’s electricity capacity by up to 30%.
Rubins and Glover had to assemble and screw on the struts of the first two solar panels, which were to be launched in June.
The eight solar panels above are now 12 to 20 years old – most of them have reached the end of their service life and are deteriorating. Each panel is 34 meters long and 12 meters wide. Starting in the middle, each pair stretches for 73 meters, which is longer than the wingspan of the Boeing 777.
Boeing supplies new roll-up panels, about half the size of the old ones, but just as powerful thanks to the latest solar cell technology. They will be placed at an angle above the old ones, which will continue to work.
In 2017, a prototype was tested on the space station.
Sunday’s space launch was the third for Rubina’s infectious disease specialists and Navy pilot Glover – both of whom could fly to the moon.
He is one of 18 astronauts newly assigned to NASA’s Artemis Moon Landing Program. Other moonwalkers will come from this group.
Last week, Vice President Kamala Harris called in congratulations to Glover, the first African-American astronaut to live full-time on a space station. NASA released a video exchange on Saturday.
“The history you make is so proud of you,” Harris said. Like the other championships, Glover replied, it won’t be the last. “We want to make sure we can keep up with new things,” he said.
Rubins hovers with astronaut Janes Soichi Noguchi on Friday to prepare for the work on the solar panels and to ventilate and relocate the ammonia hoses.
Glover and Noguchi were among four astronauts who flew through SpaceX in November. Rubins was released from Kazakhstan in October alongside two Russians. Everyone is scheduled to return to Earth this spring.