A California-based private aerospace, defense and commercial products company, ATK, agreed to test its solar arrays at the NASA Plum Brook Station.
The work started earlier this month and extends into late April. Solar arrays can convert sunlight into electricity or energy needed for powering astronauts into deep space.
“The testing of the ATK array is a major milestone toward development of a new solar electric power system that will generate the high power needed for extending human presence throughout the solar system,” NASA officials stated in a release.
Severe weather forced ATK and NASA administrators, including those from Cleveland and Washington, to postpone a tour at Plum Brook this past Wednesday.
No make-up date has been announced.
NASA spokeswoman Katherine Martin answered questions about this new partnership at the Plum Brook Station:
Q: What is the purpose of this testing?
KM: The testing will expose the array system to the unique conditions that Plum Brook can simulate.
Because this is a new, never-before-tested design for advanced solar array systems capable of collecting more energy than previous designs, it is imperative we test them before going forward with a space-ready version.
ATK is under contract to design, analyze and test a single solar array capable of generating more than 15 kilowatts of power. The Phase I teams also will demonstrate how this array can be scaled up to provide 250 kilowatts or more for future spacecraft with very high power requirements.
Q: What will this testing ultimately accomplish or strive to achieve?
KM: High power solar electric propulsion, where the power is generated with advanced solar array systems, is a key capability required for extending human presence throughout the solar system.
These advanced solar arrays will drastically reduce weight and stowed volume, meaning it takes up less room, when compared to current systems. They also will significantly improve efficiency and functionality of future systems that will produce hundreds of kilowatts of power.
These advanced solar arrays could be used in future NASA human exploration and science missions, communications, satellites and other future spacecraft applications.
Q: Where is testing occurring at the NASA Plum Brook Station and why?
KM: The Space Power Facility houses the world’s largest and most powerful space environment simulation facilities. The Space Simulation Vacuum Chamber is the world’s largest, measuring 100 feet in diameter by 122 feet high. The Reverberant Acoustic Test Facility is the world’s most powerful spacecraft acoustic test chamber.
Q: How many solar arrays are being tested?
KM: Two: ATK is testing their prototype array system at Plum Brook Station, and DSS (Deployable Space Systems) is expected to test their prototype array system later this year in California.
Q: How much does the testing at Plum Brook cost?
KM: The cost of testing the array is about $500,000. Note that this includes the use of the facility for about eight weeks and includes ‘vibro-acoustic’ testing, hot vacuum testing, cold vacuum testing, deployed dynamics testing and all instrumentation and cabling and labor to support the tests.