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Orion’s solar panels readied for Moon mission

by • March 2, 2016 • No Comments

When NASA’s Orion capsule created its maiden flight in 2014, it was effortless to forget that only half of the spacecraft in fact went into orbit. A dummy option of the European Service Module (ESM), that is yet undergoing development, sat behind the the unmanned capsule as it lifted off of Cape Canaveral. That development has only passed a major milestone according to the main contractor, Airbus Defence and Space, with a version of the ESM’s solar array performing “flawlessly” in a deployment test this week.

  • Detail of the Orion ESM solar panels
  • Orion ESM test version
  • Orion ESM solar panel deployed
  • The Orion ESM solar panels partly deployed

Solar arrays have been common on manned spacecraft and unmanned cargo ships since the initially Soviet Soyuz and Progress undertakings of the sixties
and ’70s. The purpose of these arrays is to provide major electrical power to the craft and the inclusion of such a process on the Orion ESM, that is derived of ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), seemed like a no-brainer.

But, things changed when Orion went of being a replacement for the Space Shuttle to a deep-space craft. Instead of going into low-planet Earth orbit, Orion can be capable of executing a Trans Lunar Injection (TLI) boost to send it to the Moon and beyond. This puts much additional stress on the solar array and the engineering has to take into account that the array deflects during TLI by as much as 106 cm (48 in) at the tips.

“A crewed undertaking to the Moon involves challenging requirements for the create and development of a solar array,” says Arnaud de Jong, head of the Airbus Defence and Space Solar Array team. “To limit heavy stresses on the solar array due to the boost to the Moon orbit and back to planet Earth, the wing must be capable of angling 60 degrees forward and backward, like that of a bird. That broad movement intended we had to create the wing with thickened solar array panels and reinforced hinges and beams, that required extensive testing.”

To test the effectiveness of this strengthening along with its resilience to acoustic, vibration, and shock, Airbus is subjecting a version of the array to a series of qualification exercises, which include the that successfully accomplished deployment test at NASA’s Plum Brook Station facility in Sandusky, Ohio. The test array consisted of a yoke and three panels, and three dummy wings integrated with the test version of the Orion ESM.

When delivered in 2017, the solar array can consist of three panels with 1,242 gallium arsenide cells per panel. It can weigh in at over 250 kg (573 lb) and the near 15,000 cells can generate 11.1 kW.

Source: Airbus Defence & Space

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