Homeowners don’t just want to add solar panels to boost electricity production – the International Space Station is also being modernized.
Boeing announced that it will deliver six more solar panels from 2021 to help power the International Space Station with some of the most powerful solar cells ever put into space.
The Spectrolab XTJ Prime space solar cells correspond to those of the Boeing CST Starliner and have an efficiency of more than 30 percent. Spectrolab, a Boeing company, also produced the station’s original cells.
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“The XTJ Prime space solar cells are much more efficient than any of their predecessors and support cutting-edge research aboard the International Space Station,” said Tony Mueller, President of Spectrolab.
The new 19 x 6 m arrays will collectively produce more than 120 kilowatts of electricity to power more than 40 average US households and increase the space station’s performance by 20 to 30 percent.
The aerospace giant says the arrays will power the ISS to sustain its systems and equipment, and will increase the available power to continue a variety of public and private experiments and research in the station’s unique microgravity environment.
“Right now the space station is on the right track when it comes to breakthrough research and technological development,” said John Mulholland, ISS vice president and program manager at Boeing.
“These arrays, along with other recent upgrades to the station’s power system and data rate, will ensure that the ISS remains an incubator and business model in the commercial space ecosystem for decades to come.
“Access to this unique laboratory will continue to pay off as researchers examine the challenges of future space exploration and make discoveries that will improve life on earth.”
US-based Deployable Space Systems will create the structure of the new arrays, including the canister and frame that will unfold to hold the solar array ceilings in place.
Deployable Space Systems also built the canister, frame, and solar array ceiling for a prototype of the new arrays, which were successfully tested on board the ISS in June 2017.
The space station is constantly being modernized and, according to Boeings as the prime contractor for sustainability, their studies have shown that it could function safely after 2030 if NASA and its international partners so choose.
The station’s batteries, communications and scientific equipment racks have been upgraded, and two Boeing international docking adapters have been added to allow spacecraft to dock autonomously.
The US was able to bring its own astronauts back to the space station in 2020 after having been forced to rely on Russia since the end of the shuttle program.
That bullish outlook is cracked, however, and the station’s future remains uncertain as problems with government funding and the cost of maintaining the aging facility escalate over the coming years.
Options include desorbing the space station, handing it over to private individuals or using it as a hub for lunar missions or building a new orbital station or stations.