Here’s some free advice. If you’re a piece of equipment, don’t ever break down on the International Space Station (ISS) because NASA just might just make you sleep with the fishes.
That’s what happened to poor old ROSA (Roll-Out Solar Array) yesterday. It wouldn’t do what it was told. It wouldn’t roll back up. So they KILLED IT. My god NASA, you monster.
Poor ROSA clung on for dear life. It’s an expandable solar panel, 14 meters (46 feet) long and 4 meters (13 feet) wide, which had been taken to the ISS by SpaceX’s Dragon capsule in June. The plan was, after unfurling it and testing it out, it would be rolled back up, stored inside Dragon, and returned to Earth next week. (Edit: it would actually have burned up in the trunk of Dragon anyway. But it was still an early demise.)
But it didn’t play ball. “Attempts to retract the array were unsuccessful,” NASA said in a blog post, as it cackled with glee. “The ISS Mission Management Team met Monday morning and made the decision to jettison ROSA.”
It had been attached to the space station’s robotic arm, fully deployed. Once the decision was made, though, it was pushed away from the station. Video captures ROSA’s final moments, as it makes its way towards the atmosphere. Here, it will burn up as it re-enters. ROSA will be no more.
Why NASA. WHY.
Fortunately, ROSA’s demise is not in vain. It successfully proved that a new type of solar panel that can roll open in space can work. It’s more compact than solar panels we currently use, so it could be pretty useful in the future. It takes only 10 minutes to deploy too, using rolled booms and a lightweight mesh to support strings of photovoltaic cells.
Other solar panels are normally folded up, and then unfolded in space. But using an unrolling method, which is like a “party favor”, according to NASA, could be better. That’s one of those roll-up horn things, not some sort of sordid act, by the way.
“The ROSA investigation tests deployment and retraction, shape changes when the Earth blocks the sun, and other physical challenges to determine the array’s strength and durability,” those cruel, heartless people over at NASA said.
Among the possible benefits of this technology, it is strong and lighter than its folding solar panel counterparts. This makes it particularly good for deep space missions, where space is limited. NASA even planned to use it on a mission to move an asteroid into lunar orbit, although that mission was scrapped. It could also be used for missions to Mars, like seemingly everything else these days.
Don’t let this fool you, though. NASA is evil. And it must be stopped.