Two astronauts ventured outside the International Space Station (ISS) to attempt to install 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-74 – began at 12:11 UTC / 08:11 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.
A series of issues with Shane’s suit and with unfolding of the IROSA solar panel ended the EVA before all the planned tasks could be accomplished.
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
This first IROSA was launched along with the second aboard the SpaceX CRS-22 cargo Dragon mission that launched from Florida back on 3 June. The second IROSA — assuming the first
EVA today goes to plan — will be installed during a following spacewalk currently scheduled for Sunday, 20 June.
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.
A significant amount of work on Shane’s suit in orbit as well as by a host of teams on the ground who now need to understand the EVA’s issues, the interference/blockage on the IROSA, and how to replan the spacewalk sequence to install the two new array sets.
Overall, this was the 239th EVA in support of station construction and maintenance and the seventh 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)