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This Orbital Fruit Roll-Up Could Be the Future of Solar Power in Space

The Roll-Out Solar Array Experiment (ROSA) deployed on Sunday, and will remain open for seven days.

by Becky Ferreira
Jun 20 2017, 10:00am

Image: NASA Johnson/YouTube

Solar power is becoming more widely adopted on Earth, but in space, it's been a default energy source for decades. The International Space Station (ISS) is powered by four sets of massive solar arrays, each measuring 112 by 39 feet, that collect enough sunlight to power 40 average homes.

Read More: NASA Needs to Change the Batteries on the Space Station

These colossal structures are impressive, but it's costly to pack and launch this kind of ungainly equipment, even in installments. That's why the ISS crew tested out a new kind of flexible solar array, called the Roll-Out Solar Array Experiment (ROSA), on Sunday.

Check out this footage of the literal roll-out of this novel platform, which successfully expanded to its full size "like a party favor," as ROSA's team described it.

The roll-out structure, which weighs 325 kilograms (717 pounds), was coiled neatly into a storage cylinder, making it much more compact than traditional arrays. You can compare the two models side by side, with this shot of ROSA being positioned for deployment, with the ISS panels in the background.

Here's a shot of the array expanding like an orbital Fruit Roll-Up, sped up 300 percent.

This is ROSA's penultimate form, from the perspective of a camera mounted on its frame.

The array will remain open for a week before it is stowed into the SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule docked to the station, which is scheduled to return to Earth in early July.

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Roll-Out Solar Array Experiment