Station Solar Array Tears During Redeployment

The third spacewalk of STS-120 involved moving a large solar array panel to a new position on the International Space Station. Just as the supposedly successful spacewalk was coming to a close, the astronauts noticed that at least one panel on the array has torn. The astronauts halted extending the array, took a bunch of photographs, and now NASA engineers are working to figure out what to do next.

They were so close. Astronauts Scott Parazynski and Doug Wheelock had just finished installing the P6 truss with the help of the station and shuttle’s robotic arms. Completing this task had been done over the course of three different spacewalks – over 7 hours of work on today’s walk alone.

As the solar array was almost completely unfurled, the astronauts noticed that a section about 80 cm (2.5 feet) in length had torn. They didn’t notice the damage earlier, because sunlight was obscuring the view to the torn section.

Once they noticed the damage, the astronauts halted the operation, and reported the problem to NASA. Then they took a series of photographs so that engineers can study the damage and determine what will happen if they try to continue opening up the panels.

NASA has already decided to add an extra day to Discovery’s mission, giving the astronauts an extra spacewalk can be performed on Thursday. During this trip outside the station, the astronauts will study the troublesome joint that was found damaged during the second spacewalk of the mission.

Mike Suffredini, NASA’s International Space Station, isn’t worried about the power generating capacity of the panels, “if we get the array down and we cut the snag and we figure out how to reinforce it, we’ll redeploy the array. It’s giving all the power we need. It doesn’t have to look good; it’s not about style points.”

During today’s spacewalk, the astronauts also examined the port rotary joint, and didn’t find the same evidence of metal filings that were discovered in the starboard joint. Scott Parazynski described the joint’s race rings as “nice and clean.”

Discovery is now due to undock from the space station on Monday, and return to Earth on November 7th.

Original Source: NASA News Release