ATK’s Lighter, Stronger Solar Arrays to Power Orion

Image Credit: ATK

NASA has selected ATK’s MegaFlex™ solar array design under the space agency’s Space Technology Program thru a competition held to develop lightweight, compact, solar array structures. Under this program, ATK received a little over $6 million to develop the MegaFlex™ design. These solar arrays will be developed at ATK’s Space Components Division located in Goleta, Calif., it is hope that they can meet the anticipated power demands of 350kW and higher that is required under the this program.

These arrays need to have a very low mass and to be capable of being stowed in a manner that takes up as little volume as possible. If everything works out they will provide solar electric propulsion for future deep space crewed missions.

NASA’s next crewed vehicle, the Orion spacecraft, will utilize arrays that ATK is currently developing. Image Credit: NASA

“We are honored to win this program to develop the future space exploration power platform for NASA,” said David Shanahan, vice president and general manager of ATK Aerospace Group’s Space Components Division. “This win is a result of the outstanding innovation and capabilities of our Goleta team.”

Under the space agency’s Phase 1 technology development program, the MegaFlex™ solar arrays will double in size to about twice that of the MPCV UltraFlex™ (bringing them to around 40 feet in diameter). These should raise the technical readiness of the MegaFlex™, which will be verified through the development process and testing. The Utah-based company is working to produce flight-ready versions of the MegaFlex™ design in order to have them used on a future demonstration flight which will occur during the second phase of the technology development contract.

MegaFlex™ is based off of the spaceflight-proven UltraFlex™ solar arrays that were used on NASA’s Mars Phoenix Lander which touched down on the Red Planet’s South Pole in May of 2008. As NASA’s recently-announced InSight mission is based off of the Mars Phoenix Lander design, it too will utilize these arrays.

MegaFlex – like Ultraflex, which was used on the Mars Phoenix Lander – is an accordion fanfold flexible blanket solar array. Photovoltaic cells are bonded to the weave mesh blankets. When stowed, the solar array is configured as a flat-pack to produce a compact launch volume and high system frequency. Here they are pictured on the SEP vehicle. Image Credit: NASA

These smaller (each array is about 6 feet in diameter) arrays still allowed the Phoenix mission to have three extensions. The UltraFlex™ arrays are designed to be lightweight, durable and compact while still providing 15KW of power.

These arrays will measure almost 20 feet in diameter and were also selected for use on NASA’s crewed Orion spacecraft (the vehicle that NASA plans to send astronauts beyond low-Earth-orbit for the first time in over 40 years). The first test flight of Orion, Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1) is slated to launch atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket in 2014.

“ATK-Goleta has been in the business of manufacturing solar arrays since the early 90s,” said Dave Messner, general manager of ATK Solar Arrays and Deployables. “What is especially remarkable about the MegaFlex solar array is that its compact stowage and extremely low mass will enable NASA to explore deep space much more efficiently and effectively than ever before using high power Solar Electric Propulsion.”

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