Now Tim Peake has landed safely back on earth let’s take a look back at some of the solar related aspects of his mission on the International Space Station.
Solar power really is the electricity source of the future, and the designers of the International Space Station agree. Since you can’t really use extension cables to get power up to space, engineers turned to solar power to convert solar energy into electricity, in exactly the same way as the domestic solar panels you see in your neighbourhood.
The International Space Station has four sets of solar arrays (an array is a group of four panels or wings), with each wing measuring 115 feet long and 38 feet wide, and weighing over 1,000 kg. These wings work together to provide enough electricity for 40 homes.
Unfortunately for the astronauts, one of the wings had developed a fault, and needed to be repaired, and it’s the wing furthest from the space station. With no specialist solar engineers in space, British astronaut Tim Peak had to do a spacewalk and do the repairs himself.
Because it’s important not to disturb the wings when the sun is on them, and therefore when they generate the most electricity, Tim had do his repairs when the sun was not on the space station, meaning he worked without any natural light, and was totally dependent on his torch while he installed the nearly three foot long replacement part.
First of all, fellow astronaut Timothy Kopra installed safety tethers, giving Tim something to hold on to as he made his way to the wings. Carefully carrying the replacement part, called a Shunt Unit, to the wing. It was the last spare shunt unit on board the space station, so if any more go wrong, the astronauts on board will have to wait for the next shuttle from earth to bring a replacement.
Once at the repair site, the repair itself was carried out fairly quickly, as it’s a simple case of unbolting the faulty unit, and bolting the new one on, with a specialist screwdriver which has been christened "The Toothbrush”, due to its uncanny resemblance to a regular toothbrush.
While they only travelled approximately 60 metres, they only had window of 30 minutes to get the work done before the space station starts turning towards the sunlight again.
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