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NASA begins unfurling new solar energy panels

Written by: Staff
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HOUSTON, Sep 14 (Reuters) NASA began slowly unfurling two new solar energy arrays on the International Space Station today in a delicate operation that was temporarily delayed by a software glitch.

The first of the arrays, which will stretch out 73-metre when fully extended, looked like golden wings as its panels unfolded to reflect the sunlight that will be converted into additional electricity for the station.

''The International Space Station (is) beginning to spread its wings with the first of the two new solar arrays now in the process of being deployed,'' flight commentator Kyle Herring said at Mission Control in Houston.

The arrays, folded up like an accordion for transport from Earth by shuttle Atlantis, were being unfurled in a step-by-step operation aimed at avoiding deployment problems the first time solar arrays were added to the station in 2000.

On that mission, an array got stuck as it was extending and required spacewalking astronauts to go out and get it moving.

This time, NASA used a slow release to let the panels relax and get warmed by the sun, which the agency believes would lead to a smooth operation.

Each of the two panels was to be released halfway, then allowed to sit in the sun for 30 minutes before stretching out to their full length.

The process was delayed when a rotating joint unit to keep the arrays pointed toward the sun did not respond properly to software commands from Mission Control.

Once the problem was resolved, the deployment began.

The solar panels, part of a 17 1/2-tonne truss structure, were delivered to the station on Monday by shuttle Atlantis in a mission that restarted station construction after nearly four years.

NASA grounded the shuttle program after the Columbia disaster in 2003.

After more than 1 billion dollars in safety upgrades and two test flights, the agency launched Atlantis on Saturday on the first of at least 15 shuttle missions over the next four years to complete the 100 billion dollars space station.

REUTERS BDP VV1724

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