SpaceX kicked off its 26th space station resupply mission on Saturday, sending 7,700 pounds of equipment and supplies aboard a Dragon freighter, including belated Thanksgiving Day treats for the lab crew, research gear and two new deployment solar panels to boost station power.
Delayed by stormy weather earlier this week, the Falcon 9 rocket’s first-stage engines sprung to life at 2:20 p.m. EST and the slender rocket lifted away from pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center. About 12 minutes later, the Cargo Dragon was released to fly on its own.
If all goes well, the spacecraft will pursue the station early Sunday, approaching from behind and below. After looping past the lab and then above, the pod will move to autonomous docking at the space-facing port of the front Harmony module.
“The two new solar arrays that we will be doing spacewalks are critically important for us … to install and deploy onboard the International Space Station,” said Joel Montalbano, program manager for the spacewalk. space station at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.
“And in addition to the two solar panels, we have life support equipment being delivered, GPS equipment, exercise equipment and medical equipment. … All in all, we are looking for an exciting mission.”
Also on board: late Thanksgiving treats for the station’s seven-member crew, including spiced green beans, cranberry desserts and pumpkin pie.
“Also, our standard food menu allows them to have everything we would have at Thanksgiving, you know, mashed potatoes, candied yams, mac and cheese for those who want mac and cheese. We so let’s get these guys fed very well.”
The Cargo Dragon is also loaded with research materials, including an experiment to grow dwarf tomatoes in space, an experimental in-flight medical diagnostic kit, an experiment to test new techniques for building large structures in microgravity, and a another that will test new ways to produce essential nutrients in space.
The ISS Deployment Solar Panels, or IROSA, are the third and fourth of six installed on the space station as part of a $103 million upgrade to increase the power output of the eight older space station covers. original laboratory equipment.
The space station was built with four massive rotating solar wings, two on the right side of the lab and two on the left. Each of these four wings is made up of two sun covers extending from opposite sides of a central hub.
The first pair of original equipment covers have been in service for over 20 years. Later wings were added in 2006, 2007 and 2009. All have suffered degradation over the years in the space environment and they do not generate as much power as when new.
The IROSA blankets, about half the size of the original arrays, are more efficient and will eventually generate an additional 120 kilowatts of power. They were designed to be mounted on brackets at the base of an existing wing, extending outwards at a 10 degree angle to minimize the shadow they cast on the board below.
The first two IROSA covers were installed on the left outer arrays – the oldest on the station – during spacewalks in 2021. The IROSAs carried aboard the SpaceX Cargo Dragon on Saturday will be installed on the left and right at the inside. wings during spacewalks in December.
“The first two arrays performed remarkably well,” said Matt Mickle, development projects manager at Boeing, in a NASA statement. “Solar cells are immensely more powerful than previous generations.”
Once all six deployment bays are installed, the overall power output will be increased by 20-30%, roughly matching the output of the original bays when new.
The last two of the six IROSAs currently under contract will be launched next year. It is not yet known whether NASA will purchase two final IROSAs to augment the station’s original eight coverages.
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