U.S. Department of Energy

    Shuttle Astronauts to Boost Solar Power for the Space Station

    August 30, 2006

    Tropical storm Ernesto has delayed the scheduled August 27th launch of space shuttle Atlantis indefinitely, but when the space shuttle is rolled back to the launch pad and launched into space, it will be carrying a valuable cargo of solar power systems for the International Space Station (ISS). The space shuttle will carry two rolled-up "blankets" of solar cells that together can generate nearly 66 kilowatts of power, enough to nearly double the power available for the ISS. The astronauts will install a rotary joint to hold the solar arrays and in the following days will unroll the blankets to form two solar array wings with a total length of 240 feet.

    Photo of a solar array blanket, unrolled across a room.

    This solar array blanket will be carried to the International Space Station when space shuttle Atlantis launches.
    Credit: Russ Underwood, Lockheed Martin Space Systems

    According to Lockheed Martin, the makers of the solar arrays, they are the largest deployable space structure ever built and are by far the most powerful electricity-producing arrays ever put into orbit, at least in our solar system. They are also among the most expensive: Lockheed Martin built eight of the solar arrays under a $450 million contract. Two of the solar arrays were installed in late 2000, and the remaining solar arrays will be installed in upcoming space shuttle missions. See the press release from Lockheed Martin and detailed information about the shuttle mission from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.