International Space Station to receive upgrades to its solar panels in 2021

The future of the International Space Station (ISS) lies in solar energy. Renewable energies are designed to ensure long-term power generation for what was once a difficult operation.

It wasn’t long ago that the future of the ISS was in great doubt as funding was cut and costs escalated. The move to solar power has fundamentally changed the ISS, and new solar expansions and upgrades are designed to ensure the station remains an important part of our solar research for years to come.

NASA will be modernizing and expanding the ISS solar capacity this year to ensure the station will have enough power for at least the end of the decade.

The upgraded solar modules will be transported to the ISS on a SpaceX Dragon cargo ship and installed on six of the station’s eight current arrays. These new solar systems will increase total power generation at the station by 30 percent and generate 215 kilowatts of electricity compared to 160 kilowatts that the existing systems will provide.

ISS vice president and program manager for Boeing John Mulholland said this upgrade will secure the near term future of research conducted at the station.

“When it comes to breakthrough research and technological development, the space station is right now on the right track,” he said.

“These arrays, along with other recent upgrades to the station’s power system and data rate, will ensure 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.”

What does the additional energy mean for the International Space Station?

The ISS celebrated its 20th anniversary in November 2020 and has accommodated 241 people from 19 different countries to carry out important research on space and our solar system. The total cost of developing, assembling and operating the ISS over a 10-year period was EUR 100 billion (AUD 150 billion), which was a very expensive task. Funding has declined in recent years to just $ 17 million for 2021, compared to the $ 150 million requested. There were real concerns about the future of the ISS, so improving energy efficiency was a major boost to the future of the station.

The extra power will also help with other upgrades to the central power system, as well as improving bandwidth to give researchers access to more facilities and better ability to retransmit information back to Earth.

Mulholland said the ISS did not reach the tipping point where systems were failing faster than they could be replaced and is optimistic about the station’s future.

“As the technical teams have seen, they firmly believe we haven’t reached that breaking point,” he said.

“We are confident that we can go well into the next decade if the mission is extended from a political perspective.”

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