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One of two solar panels on Cygnus capsule fails to deploy

The failure of one of the two solar panels on Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus capsule to deploy today shortly after launch might cause some issues with getting the spacecraft docked to ISS.

Northrop Grumman has reported to NASA that Cygnus has sufficient power to rendezvous with the International Space Station on Wednesday, Nov. 9, to complete its primary mission, and NASA is assessing this and the configuration required for capture and berthing.

The capsule does not dock directly with the station, but is instead grabbed by a robot arm, which then brings it into its port. The grapple point that the arm uses is on the end where the solar panels are, with the docking port at the capsule’s other end. What is not presently clear is whether that point is blocked by the undeployed panel.

Conscious Choice cover

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7 comments

  • Gealon

    Oh gee, look at that, the over-engineered circular panels fail again. Who would have though that stuffing the design with complicated hinge and cable mechanisms would make it less reliable than simple square panels?

    Sarcasm aside, the design I liked most was the Japanese HTV. Covered in solar cells where they could put them with a simple and reliable propulsion design. Nothing fancy, just robust and reliable. Northrop Grumman should reacquaint themselves with the principals of K.I.S.S.

  • Gealon: I think the new upgraded HTV has switched to rectangular panels that fold out.

  • Jay

    Yes, the HTV-X will have fold out panels that will produce a little over 1kw compared to the old HTV with stuck on photovoltaics around the hull only produced 200w.

    Back to Cygnus-
    I am sure the one array will keep the batteries charged up and when it departs it will have enough juice to deorbit. I do wonder if Cygnus can connect to the station’s power through the CBM (Common Birthing Mechanism) like other modules? This is a different docking connection, but I remember one of the PMAs on ISS had the ability to connect and send some power to the shuttle Endeavour.

  • Jay: What remains unclear to me is whether the undeployed panel is blocking the arm grapple point. Based on past images of Cygnus and the location of the panels, it seems it might be. If so, it will not be possible to grab the capsule to berth it.

  • Almost immediately after I posted the comment above, NASA issued an update. I have posted this on the main page.

    The uncertainties however remain.

  • Gealon

    Yeah, it was the HTV-II I was thinking of.

    I don’t see why you would need a Kw of power unless your electronics are a power hog or are using that excess power to run heat pumps or heaters. 200 watts might be a bit tight for a power budget in that case, but I still like the simplicity of the HTV-II’s design.

  • Jay

    Gealon,
    Good question. Speaking as someone who has worked on power management of systems using batteries, you can never have enough power. Who knows what power needs are required for the payloads: heating, refrigeration, automation, communications, etc….
    The HTV-X may look similar to the HTV besides the folding photovoltaic panels, but it is big redesign of the spacecraft. Reading the JAXA literature, the avionics module and propulsion module have been replaced with a single smaller service module. JAXA is still using the same pressurized module design, but they have removed the unpressurized module from the middle and put it behind the service module.
    I too was wondering why they did that, and the service module only has a reaction control system around the service module, and no main propulsion system in the rear. I can see JAXA looking at using this service module design if they wish to have their own capsule. Remember that the service module to Orion is from ESA and is based off of their ATV cargo spacecraft.

    A good discussion I have been following about this topic is here.

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