SpaceX sends supplies to the space station on the 54th launch this year

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon space station supply ship lifted off from Kennedy Space Center on Saturday, kicking off a 17-hour rendezvous. Hopefully, the Dragon, loaded with 7,700 pounds of supplies and equipment, will dock at the lab complex at 7:30am EST Sunday. / Credit: NASA TV

SpaceX launched its 26th space station resupply mission on Saturday, sending 7,700 pounds of equipment and supplies aboard a Dragon cargo ship, including Thanksgiving Day treats for the lab crew, research gear and two new solar panels to increase the power of the station.

Delayed by bad weather earlier this week, the Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage engines kicked to life at 2:20 p.m. EST and the slim rocket took off from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. About 12 minutes later, the Cargo Dragon was released to fly solo.

Hopefully, the spacecraft will track the station early Sunday, approaching from behind and below. After passing the lab and then over it, the pod will move to autonomously dock at the door facing the front Harmony module space.

“Centrally important to us (are) the two new solar arrays that we will be doing spacewalks … to install and deploy aboard the International Space Station,” said Joel Montalbano, space station program manager at the Johnson Space Center. of Houston.

“And in addition to the two solar arrays, we have some life support equipment, some GPS hardware, some exercise hardware, and some medical equipment on delivery. … All in all, we’re looking for an exciting mission.”

Also on board: Belated Thanksgiving treats for the station’s seven-member crew, including spicy green beans, blueberry desserts, and pumpkin pie.

“Also, our standard food menu allows them to have anything we would have on Thanksgiving, you know, mashed potatoes, candied sweet potatoes, mac and cheese for those who want mac and cheese. feed yourself very well.”

The Cargo Dragon is also loaded with research equipment, including an experiment to grow dwarf tomatoes in space, an experimental kit for in-flight medical diagnosis, an experiment to test new techniques for building large structures in microgravity, and a other that it will test new ways to produce key nutrients in space.

A camera on the Falcon 9 second stage captures a view of the Dragon cargo ship as it departs after reaching orbit.  A series of blankets of rolled up solar panels is visible in the unpressurized trunk section of the spacecraft.  / Credit: NASA TV

A camera on the Falcon 9 second stage captures a view of the Dragon cargo ship as it departs after reaching orbit. A series of blankets of rolled up solar panels is visible in the unpressurized trunk section of the spacecraft. / Credit: NASA TV

The ISS Roll-Out Solar Arrays, or IROSAs, are the third and fourth of six installed on the space station in a $103 million upgrade to boost the power of the lab’s older and original eight blankets.

The space station was built with four huge rotating solar wings, two on the right side of the laboratory and two on the left side. Each of these four wings consists of two solar panels extending from opposite sides of a central hub.

The first pair of original equipment blankets have been in operation for over 20 years. Subsequent wings were added in 2006, 2007 and 2009. All have suffered the degradation of years in the space environment and do not generate as much energy as when new.

The IROSA blankets, about half the size of the original arrays, are more efficient and will eventually generate another 120 kilowatts of power. They were designed to be bracket mounted to the base of an existing wing, extending outwards at a 10 degree angle to minimize shadow cast on the array below.

NASA is upgrading the International Space Station's solar power system.  The first two of the six roll-out solar panel covers were installed last year, attached to the far right outboard original equipment arrays.  Two roll-out arrays launched aboard the Cargo Dragon on Saturday will be connected to the internal arrays on the right and left side of the station.  / Credit: NASA

NASA is upgrading the International Space Station’s solar power system. The first two of the six roll-out solar panel covers were installed last year, attached to the far right outboard original equipment arrays. Two roll-out arrays launched aboard the Cargo Dragon on Saturday will be connected to the internal arrays on the right and left side of the station. / Credit: NASA

The first two IROSA blankets were installed on the left outer arrays – the oldest set on the station – during spacewalks in 2021. The IROSAs carried aboard SpaceX Cargo Dragon Saturday will be installed on the left and right side inside wings during spacewalks in December.

“The first two arrays performed exceptionally well,” said Matt Mickle, senior manager of development projects at Boeing, in a NASA release. “Solar cells are immensely more powerful than previous generations.”

Once all six roll-out arrays are installed, overall power generation will increase by 20-30 percent, roughly matching the output of the original arrays when they were 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 all eight of the station’s original blankets.

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