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Panel on space station solar antenna rips

by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Oct 30, 2007
NASA scientists were Tuesday examining the damage to a panel on a solar antenna on the International Space Station which ripped as it was repositioned by the crew of the shuttle Discovery.

"The team is meeting right now to look at these many pictures and try to decide what exactly is causing the problem," said Mike Suffredini, the manager of the orbiting space station.

"We don't clearly know what we're dealing with yet, and as soon as we know what we're dealing with, then we can talk about what our next steps are."

The edge of one of the 31 panels on the solar antenna tore just as the operation to redeploy the device -- directed by mission control back on Earth -- was almost complete, images carried live on NASA television showed.

The solar antenna, which has wings measuring 76 meters (249 feet) when unfurled, was repositioned after astronauts earlier successfully installed a massive truss that is used to rotate the energy-generating solar arrays.

Suffredini estimated the tear was about 90 centimeters, but said the solar antenna was providing about 97 percent of the energy it supplies to the space station.

"That means that we have not damaged the feed wires. That's great news," he said.

"So we have plenty of time to solve this problem ... we are tracking the sun ... so we are in a very good configuration in terms of being able to take some time to solve this problem," he added.

The US space agency has started taking a series of photos of the solar panels to assess the scale of the damage and what repairs might be necessary. There was apparently no damage to the exterior cables between the panels.

The status of the solar antenna, one of three on the orbiting space station, has taken on added importance after problems emerged with a rotary joint for another solar antenna recently installed on the ISS.

The space station will need added electrical power for a European lab to be delivered in December and a Japanese lab due to be installed in 2008.

The mishap with the antenna occurred after a successful spacewalk in which shuttle astronauts Scott Parazynski and Doug Wheelock finished the installation of the P6 truss with the help of robotic arms operated by colleagues aboard the shuttle and ISS, culminating a three-day effort.

Lasting seven hours and eight minutes, it was the third of five scheduled space walks for the ambitious Discovery mission.

The giant truss, a large 16-ton metal beam, was needed to deploy the solar antenna and had been stored on the top of the space station for seven years.

NASA confirmed earlier on Tuesday it would extend Discovery's mission by one day to allow for a closer inspection of the flawed rotary joint that turns solar arrays aboard the space station.

In a fourth space walk set for Thursday, astronauts will examine the rotary joint after having found small metal shavings and unusual wear in the joint in an earlier space walk on Sunday.

The inspection will require a space walk of more than six hours as the Discovery remains docked at the ISS. As a result, the shuttle is scheduled to return to Earth on November 7 instead of November 6.

The ISS, a giant manned laboratory orbiting 240 miles (390 kilometers) above Earth, is designed to be a potential jumping-off point for further exploration of the solar system.

The 100-billion-dollar space station, supported by 16 countries, is considered key to US ambitions to send a manned mission to Mars and is due to be completed within three years.

The current mission is making space exploration history as shuttle Commander Pam Melroy, 46, and Peggy Whitson, 47, are the first women to hold the reins of the two spacecraft at the same time.

The shuttle is to be retired in 2010 to make way for Constellation, a new space exploration project that aims to put humans back on the moon by 2020.

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Teams Evaluate Array Damage
Houston TX (SPX) Oct 31, 2007
Engineering teams continue to look at the damage to the P6 4B solar array spotted by the crew during deployment Tuesday. NASA halted the deployment of the solar array wing to evaluate the damage. Deployment was about 80 percent complete. The crew photographed the area on the solar array wing and downlinked the images to the ground.

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