How much would you like to have a solar panel that you could just unroll like a sleeping bag and plug in? Sounds easy, right? On the International Space Station, such a thing is not as easy as it sounds.
On December 3, 2022, two members of the Expedition 68 crew who already had experience with EVAs, Josh Cassada and Frank Rubio, installed a brand-new solar panel that were recently delivered by the CRS-26 resupply mission. They also made preparations for installation of another solar panel during an upcoming EVA. The preparations included releasing several bolts in the planned location for the next solar panel installation.
The solar panels, officially called International Space Station Roll-Out Solar Arrays (iROSA), are a “flatter” model that came rolled up on one of SpaceX’s Cargo Dragons. They will supplement the power production capacity of the familiar, rigid solar panels that were originally installed during the Space Shuttle era.
The ISS partners plan to install six iROSAs on the International Space Station. With this successful installation, three of them have been installed. A fourth is slated to be installed on December 19. Once all six are installed, power production capacity could increase by up to 30%, helping to support valuable scientific experiments on the International Space Station.
This most recent EVA was the 256th dedicated to ISS assembly, upgrades, and maintenance. NASA astronaut Nicole Mann and JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata provided support by operating the Canadian-built Canadarm2 from inside the space station. Canadarm2 carried Josh Cassada and the iROSA solar panel to its installation site on its starboard truss structure. The day after the EVA, the astronauts involved got a well-deserved day off.
…Might you see similar “roll-out” solar panels on building rooftops, though?
It is pretty common for NASA to brag about inserting the technology and scientific results from its work into private industry. However, most of the “roll-out” solar panels you’ll see don’t exactly look space-rated. They are more likely to be used for portable applications than installed on a building’s rooftop anyway.
But that’s okay; they’re still useful for situations in which you’re on the move and need power. Renovagen advertises them for applications like disaster relief or military deployments. They might also be good for “glamping.”
The most important thing is that they’re easy to deploy. They can just be towed by an average-sized pickup truck, and then rolled out by that same truck and pegged down to withstand wind. If you’re doing it right, it won’t be blown away by anything less than 80-mph winds.
Honestly? If you’re facing that kind of wind, you probably won’t be out and about in what’s likely a tropical storm at minimum. You probably want a portable solar array that can power your important gear with less square feet anyway. Get something that’s foldable and it’ll probably be less of a PITA to pack back up when you’re ready to go home.
Simply plugging it in and unrolling it does sound easier when you’re an astronaut doing an EVA, though. No need to mess with a bulky, stiff, and hard-to-maneuver solar panel when you’re already in a spacesuit with similar qualities.