Solar Power In Use: The International Space Station

The International Space Station and Solar Power

The International Space Station is truly a wonder of technology and engineering. Orbiting 220 miles above Earth at an average speed of 17000 miles per hour, the space station has been continuously manned since November of 2000. The international space station is used as an observatory and laboratory in low earth orbit for scientific research as well as as a staging base for expeditions deeper into space. The station is manned by a crew of six and consists mainly of a number of different modules from the Russian, U.S., European, Canadian, and Japanese space agencies in addition to various apparatus that provide power and life support systems for the crew. Various manned and unmanned spacecraft regularly dock at the station to bring supplies and transport crew members to and from Earth.

Supplying Power in Space

Given the logistical complexities of operating in space, one might wonder how the space station is able to generate the power necessary to remain fully habitable and operational for years on end without being connected to a power source on Earth. To solve this problem, the engineers of the space station looked even further into space for a source of constant and reliable energy: the sun.

Solar Arrays of the International Space Station

As one might imagine, the International Space Station requires a tremendous amount of electrical power to be able to sustain its crew and functions. The station’s massive solar array converts sunlight into electricity to power the station’s electrical systems, electronics, and also to supply the station with heat to maintain a comfortable temperature for the crew inside the station. The U.S. portion of the space station, called the USOS (US Orbital Segment), consists of four wing pairs of double-sided photovoltaic arrays. Each wing has almost 33,000 solar cells and spans 115 feet in length and 39 feet in width when fully extended. The space station’s solar arrays together can generate as much as 120kW of electricity.

Solar Panels Aren’t Just for Space

While the international space station is certainly one of the most impressive examples of solar power in use, one hardly has to be an astronaut to reap the benefits that solar energy can provide. Back on Earth, solar energy is increasingly becoming a part of the world’s energy supply. In the United States, for example, states like Connecticut and Hawaii have already reached grid parity with solar power, meaning that producing alternative forms of energy from solar panels, wind mills, etc. are already more cost-efficient than purchasing electricity from a conventional grid.

Installing solar panels to provide your home or business with clean, renewable power is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint as well as your monthly electricity bill. Companies all over Connecticut and the U.S. offer solar panel installations for homes as well as commercial buildings and farms.

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