Deployable Solar Arrays Provide Spacecraft's Primary Power
For its first mission to the International Space Station,
SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft will use deployable solar arrays
as its primary power source for running sensors, driving heating
and cooling systems, and communicating with SpaceX’s Mission
Control Center and the Space Station. Dragon’s solar arrays
generate up to 5,000 watts of power -- enough to power over 80
standard light bulbs. The solar arrays, shielded by protective
covers during launch, deploy just minutes after Dragon separates
from the Falcon 9 second stage, as it heads towards its rendezvous
with the Space Station.
Technicians Install Deployable Solar
While many commercial satellites and NASA missions such as the
Hubble Space telescope use solar arrays, Dragon will be the first
commercial American transport vehicle to do so.
Past American spacecraft like Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and
Shuttle used fuel cells or battery packs. Fuel cells are limited by
the amount of chemical reactants (typically oxygen and hydrogen)
that the vehicle can carry. Batteries alone are limiting due to
their mass and the amount of power they can carry.
Solar energy provides a key benefit -- long-term power.
Combining Dragon’s solar arrays with a compact and efficient
battery pack provides a reliable and renewable source of power.
When in the sun, Dragon’s solar arrays recharge the battery
pack, and the charged batteries provide power while Dragon passes
through the Earth’s shadow. With solar panels, Dragon will
have the power it needs for longer trips, whether to the Space
Station or future missions to Mars.
Artist's Concept Dragon Approaching
Dragon’s deployable solar arrays were developed from
scratch by a small team of SpaceX engineers. To ensure they will
survive the harsh environment of space, our engineers put the solar
arrays through hundreds of hours of rigorous testing including
thermal, vacuum, vibration, structural and electrical testing.
SpaceX conducts most of these tests in-house. After testing was
complete, the solar arrays headed to SpaceX’s Cape Canaveral
launch site for final integration. The solar arrays and fairing
covers that protect the folded arrays during launch have since been
installed on the Dragon spacecraft in preparation for their first
flight to the International Space Station. (Images provided by