China’s space lab module powered by huge, flexible solar panels

The China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) has revealed that the first lab module of China’s space station is being powered by a “pair of wings” composed of huge, flexible solar arrays.

The Wentian module, a structure about the size of a Beijing subway car, was flung into space and later docked with the combination of China’s space station in July, becoming the heaviest ever single-cabin active spacecraft in orbit.The CMSA on Monday provided technical details of huge solar arrays on the space experiment platform, with multiple cabinets and more than 40 approved research projects.

Wentian has a solar wingspan of over 55 meters. A single wing spreads to about 110 square meters, making the total expanded area two times larger than the core module Tianhe, onto which Wentian has been docked.

To blast off a module with solar wings so wide that they may disturb the docking through self-oscillation, Chinese engineers resorted to a two-time unfolding solution.

During the launch, the flexible solar wings were first folded tightly like a closed accordion. Each panel is less than one millimeter thick, thus reducing the volume of the folded arrays to just 20 percent the volume of traditional solar panels.