If you’ve ever seen the International Space Station (ISS) as it passes overhead 250 miles above Earth, then you’ll probably know that its bright appearance is a result of the sun reflecting off its four pairs of solar arrays.
Hosting the first astronauts in 2000, the initial pair of arrays were installed the same year, followed by three more pairs in 2006, 2007, and 2009.
But the panels are getting a little old now and losing their effectiveness, so NASA is planning to add new ones starting this year.
The incoming arrays will be provided by Boeing (NASA’s prime contractor for space station operations), its subsidiary Spectrolab, and major supplier Deployable Space Systems.
“The combination of the eight original, larger arrays, and the smaller, more efficient new arrays will restore the power generation of each augmented array to approximately the amount generated when the original arrays were first installed, providing a 20% to 30% increase in power for space station research and operations,” NASA said this week.
The new arrays, which will be positioned in front of six of the current arrays, will link to the same power system to boost the existing supply. Once they’ve all been added, the setup will look like this:
They’ll be delivered to the space station in pairs in the unpressurized trunk of SpaceX’s Cargo Dragon spacecraft in three separate resupply missions starting this year.
“The installation of each solar array will require two spacewalks,” the space agency said, “One to prepare the worksite with a modification kit and another to install the new solar array.”
Still keen to use the orbiting laboratory to test advanced technologies for the upcoming Artemis missions, as well as human exploration of deep space and a future mission to Mars, NASA is intent on keeping the ISS fully operational until at least 2028. Adding the new solar arrays helps the agency toward this goal.
To find out more about everyday life on the ISS, check out these videos made by astronauts over the years during their stays on the modular station. If you’ve never seen it pass overhead, then this article tells you all you need to know about spotting it in the sky — no binoculars or telescope needed!