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ROCKET SCIENCE
ATK Validates MegaFlex Solar Array For NextGen Solar Electric Propulsion Missions
by Staff Writers
Arlington VA (SPX) May 05, 2014


File image.

ATK has completed testing of its MegaFlex solar array wing under a contract with NASA Glenn Research Center (Glenn) to ready high-power solar arrays for powering large-scale Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP) systems planned for use on future robotic and manned exploration missions.

MegaFlex is an innovative solar array design that includes a unique circular architecture, revolutionary unfurling mechanism, and cutting-edge materials, which provide high power, low mass and small stowed volume - all critical performance metrics for achieving a wide variety of challenging space exploration missions. The demonstration wing is 32 feet in diameter and is capable of generating up to 40 kW of power with two wings when fully populated with advanced solar cells, and is scalable to 10 times higher power.

"MegaFlex is a game-changing technology that was not only developed to provide a needed capability, but also to be aligned with today's budget climate," said Dave Shanahan, vice president and general manager of ATK Aerospace Group's Space Components division. "The completion of this testing validates the technology and allows us to support near-term missions that require very high power with a very lightweight advanced solar array."

The series of rigorous testing, which took place over the past three months, included unassisted deployment of the full system between environmental exposures, stiffness and strength measurements, modal identification, launch vibration exposure, and deployments in vacuum at temperature extremes from +65 C to -65 C. This testing, conducted at Glenn's Plum Brook Station in Ohio, demonstrated and validated ATK's MegaFlex technology.

MegaFlex was developed specifically for missions with high-power SEP needs. ATK received a $6.4 million contract for the MegaFlex development from NASA for Solar Electric Propulsion Solar Array Systems in October 2012.

"Technology development and demonstrations like this are critical to enable a broad segment of NASA's roadmap for deep space exploration, as well as potential near-term government and commercial applications," said Glenn's Dr. Carolyn Mercer, Solar Electric Power Element Manager.

With the support of NASA's Glenn and Langley Research Centers, and sponsorship from the Space Technology Mission Directorate, ATK has matured the MegaFlex solar array platform, together with unique high-voltage photovoltaic assemblies, through design development and a full spectrum of validation testing, resulting in a high technical readiness level poised to enable near-term high-power missions and future missions as large as 400 kW.

The MegaFlex solar array is based on ATK's highly successful spaceflight-proven UltraFlex solar array which powered NASA's Phoenix Lander on the surface of Mars in 2008, and will also power the Mars InSight spacecraft landing in 2016. Additionally, ten UltraFlex solar array wings are currently in production for Orbital Science's Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) spacecraft with the first pair of wings to be launched in early 2015.

"The exceptional performance of UltraFlex solar arrays and the high maturity level of the higher-power evolution of this flight-proven system positions MegaFlex to enable much larger SEP missions than ever before considered possible." said Shanahan.

Deployment demonstrations of MegaFlex were held at Glenn's Plum Brook Station in March. James Free, Glenn's director, several top Glenn managers and NASA's Associate Administrator for Space Technology, Dr. Michael Gazarik viewed the demonstrations.

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