Two astronauts went outside the International Space Station (ISS) to complete installation of the first of six new Boeing-built solar arrays — part of a program to increase the station’s electrical power generation capacity as its science and research demands increase and future expansion plans continue.
The Extravehicular Activity (EVA) – officially known as US EVA-75 – began at 11:42 UTC / 07:42 EDT when Thomas Pesquet from the European Space Agency (ESA) and Shane Kimbrough from NASA took their spacesuits to battery power before exiting the Quest Airlock to begin their work.
The eight original Solar Array Wings (SAWs) on the ISS, which each produce around 30 kilowatts (kW) of power for a total of about 250kW are beginning to show signs of degradation, with the oldest array now having been in space since 2000 when the P6 truss and associated arrays was delivered to the station by Shuttle Endeavour’s STS-97 crew.
With over 20 years of use, and normal degradation of solar arrays, the eight SAWs now only produce around 160kW of power – against a backdrop of rising power demands from the station’s increasing users.
This led the Station program to develop the ISS Power Augmentation (IPA) plan, which called for adding six additional solar arrays to the station in order to restore the outpost’s power generation to its original levels.
Under the IPA program, six new ISS Roll Out Solar Arrays (IROSAs) will be added. Whilst the station’s original arrays were folded up and deployed in an accordion-like manner, the IROSAs are a new type of array technology which roll out in a mat-like manner from inside a cylindrical canister.
The IROSAs will be installed on top of six of the station’s existing solar arrays, which will allow the IROSAs to utilize the same sun-tracking motors and be connected into the same electrical system as the current arrays.
With the IROSAs being around 30% efficient, compared to the 14% efficiency of the original arrays, the IROSAs will generate roughly the same amount of power as the originals despite being only half their size.
Each IROSA will produce 20kW of additional power, for a total of 120kW across all six arrays.
However, because the IROSAs are smaller, they will not completely cover the half of the six SAWs they’ll be installed over. Instead, portions of the original arrays will still be power positive.
The unshadowed portions of the original arrays will continue to produce 95kW as a result, making for a combined total of 215kW of power available to the ISS — an increase of nearly a third compared with the outpost’s current levels.
👨🚀👨🚀 @astro_kimbrough and I will be heading out soon, to install some solar panels ☀. @NASA has been preparing for these spacewalks for over 1.5 years, the instructions span 28 pages, it is astounding what humans can do with teamwork. See you later! 👋 https://t.co/47F4dCffAE pic.twitter.com/691s65ZSit
— Thomas Pesquet (@Thom_astro) June 16, 2021
The first EVA encounter numerous issues, primarily with Shane Kimbrough’s suit and a hardware interference with the solar array deployment that brought an end to the spacewalk well before the main objectives could be accomplished.
US EVA-74 encountered numerous issues, primarily with Shane Kimbrough’s suit and a hardware interference with the solar array unfolding that brought an end to the spacewalk well before the main objectives could be accomplished
After exiting the Quest Airlock, the first task for the pair was to translate out to the IROSA Flight Support Equipment (FSE). However, in a somewhat sign of things to come, the hatch covering would not close at first, and Shane had to spend more time than planned getting the airlock’s fabric hatch covering configured properly.
The FSE, pallet on which the pair of IROSAs are attached, was removed from cargo Dragon’s trunk by Canadarm2, also known officially as the Space Station Remote Manipulator System (SSRMS) — part of the overall Mobile Base System on the station. Canadarm2 then installed the FSE onto the Mobile Base System (MBS) Payload ORU Accommodation (POA).
For Pesquet and Kimbrough, after translating to the FSE, the duo began setup of the worksite and released launch restraint bolts on the IROSA.
However, before the EVA could progress further, two issues were noted with Shane’s suit. First, a sensor in the suit’s sublimator — which provides pressure — registered a spike. Shortly thereafter, the Display and Control Module (DCM) in his suit malfunctioned, necessitating an immediate return to the Quest Airlock to connect back to Station umbilicals to attempt a restart of the unit.
The “warm restart” of the DCM meant that Shane’s suit momentarily lost its cooling and CO2 scrubbing capabilities; however, this is an acceptable condition, per EVA procedures, when attempting to “warm restart” a DCM. A failure to restart the unit would have meant a premature end to the EVA.
The restart was successful, and ground teams sent Shane back out to Thomas while managers and engineers continued to discuss the sublimator issue — which itself could have also stop the EVA early. Fortunately, through a series of suit configuration tests, ground teams were able to determine that the sublimator was functioning properly and that a faulty sensor likely triggered an erroneous pressure increase reading.
With his suit good to go, Kimbrough translated out to the P6 truss installation site — specifically the 2B Integrated Electronics Assembly (IEA) — to begin more setup while Pesquet – mounted to the end of Canadarm2 – held on to the IROSA while he was “flown” out toward the P6 truss.
Inside the ISS in the Robotics Work Station in the Cupola viewing module, NASA astronaut Megan McArthur controlled Canadarm2; she was the one to physically drive Pesquet out toward the P6 truss.
Due to the fact that P6 is at the very outboard end of the station, Canadarm2 cannot reach all the way to the worksite, meaning Pesquet had to hand-off the IROSA to Kimbrough, who then in turn held on to it whilst Pesquet dismounted the arm and repositioned.
Once Pesquet was in position, Kimbrough handed the IROSA back to him. The duo then aligned the IROSA onto the mounting bracket of the “Mod Kit” — which was installed during a spacewalk earlier this year — at the base of the 2B Mast Canister Assembly (MCA).
The IROSA was first soft-docked onto the mounting bracket before an attempt to unfolded it into its deployment configuration stalled due to interference/blockage from a nearby structure. At this point, already at the six hour mark into the spacewalk, ground teams decided to have the duo photograph the interference and firmly secure the IROSA as is and end the spacewalk.
Teams will now evaluate a path forward to unfold the array, which must happen before it can be unfurled.
Thomas and Shane also did not mount four electrical connections between the IROSA and the 2B MCA in order to connect the IROSA into the electrical system of the current 2B solar array as they ran out of time.
After returning to the Quest Airlock, the duo took their suits off battery power at 19:26 UTC / 15:26 EDT, concluding the 7 hour 15 minute spacewalk.
Sunday’s spacewalk successfully completed the main objectives of US EVA-74 as well as saw “get ahead” tasks performed to reduce the amount of work needed in five days when the next spacewalk to install the second IROSA array is slated to occur.
After leaving the Quest airlock, Thomas took the lead moving to the worksite on the P6 truss. The pair worked to unfold the new solar array on the 2B power channel that experienced the interference on the previous EVA.
This time, the mitigation strategies developed on the ground worked, and Thomas and Shane were able the secure the IROSA properly before running electrical and data connections between the new array and the station’s power system.The crew members then successfully deployed the solar array from its flight support structure — marking the first time since 2009 that a new array was unfurled on the station. Until this spacewalk, the newest solar arrays for the station were those on the S6 truss, delivered by the STS-119 crew of the Space Shuttle Discovery.
With a success behind them, Thomas and Shane then turned their attention to get-ahead work for the second IROSA installation, currently scheduled for US EVA-76 on 25 June.
That get ahead work involved releasing the upper support beams that were needed for launch and delivery.
The EVA officially concluded at 18:09 UTC / 14:09 EDT.
Overall, US EVA-75 was the 240th EVA in support of station construction and maintenance and the eighth spacewalk so far this year outside the outpost.
(Lead image: Placement of the new IROSAs over the existing station solar arrays. Credit: Mack Crawford for NSF L2)