NASA is testing the effectiveness of a flexible solar array, the Roll-Out Solar Array, or ROSA, on space station for the very first time. ROSA is expected to one day power satellites and spacecraft. NASA had earlier tested the ROSA technology in vacuum chambers on the Earth but this is the first time it is testing the technology in space.
ROSA is an advanced, flexible solar array that rolls out like a tape measure. The ROSA is very much flexible so that it can be adapted to different sizes including very large arrays. ROSA is expected to provide power for a variety of future spacecraft and satellites. ROSA will be an asset for satellite radio and television, weather forecasting, GPS and other services used on the Earth.
The NASA engineers remotely attached the ROSA to the International Space Station’s robotic Canadarm2. ROSA will remain attached to the Canadarm2 over seven days to test its effectiveness. Scientists will test the effectiveness of ROSA in the microgravity and extreme temperatures of space.
ROSA is smaller and lighter than the traditional panels and has a centre wing build of a flexible material containing photovoltaic cells to convert light into electricity. The narrow arm extends on both the sides of the wing to provide support, called a high strain composite boom. These booms are like split tubes made of a stiff composite material. The technology of the booms will be a boon for communications and radar antennas and other instruments.
Unlike the traditional solar array panels, ROSA has the potential to make solar arrays more compact and weigh lighter. The traditional solar panels which are at present used to power satellites are very bulky with panels being folded using mechanical hinges. ROSA with significantly less mass and volume can offer substantial cost savings and increase the power for satellites. ROSA is 20% lighter and 4 times smaller in volume than the traditional panels.
In addition, ROSA technology can provide solar power to remote locations.