STS-119 Shuttle Crew, NASA

Short Circuit Leaves ISS Astronauts With One Less Power Channel Until 2016

It’s hard to get spare parts in space.

FIONA MACDONALD
18 NOV 2015
 

Astronauts on board the International Space Station (ISS) have suffered a minor power cut as a result of a short circuit in their equipment.

The problem will likely need to be fixed via spacewalk, but the part required to do that won't be delivered until 2016 when SpaceX resumes supply runs. But don't worry, in the meantime the crew isn't in any danger and everything is functioning normally on board the orbiting science lab.

 

This isn't the first time a short circuit has affected the ISS. Last year a similar malfunction occurred and also needed to be fixed via spacewalk, as The Guardian reports.The Guardian report. So how does this happen, and how does the space station continue to get power in the meantime?

Usually there are eight functioning power channels that feed power to the ISS, each linked up to the eight different solar arrays on the space station's surface. 

In this instance, a short circuit caused a switching device to trip, which knocked one of those channels offline, requiring the astronauts to reroute all the systems reliant upon it to alternate channels.

All in all it was a minor issue, and it's precisely for cases like this that the astronauts have so many different power channels. The good news is it'll also be a pretty easy fix once they have the part they need.

That will arrive with the next SpaceX delivery, currently scheduled for early next year. Elon Musk's space exploration company has been grounded ever since its failed launch in June, but there's talk of its rockets getting ready to fire up again.

In the meantime, NASA has relied on its other commercial supplier, Orbital ATK, to deliver food and supplies to the ISS. Their next cargo load is due to launch in two weeks, but it's already been packed and finalised, and so couldn't carry the spare part.

Orbital ATK has had its own issues and has also been in hiatus after an explosion during one of its launch attempts last year. But it will be using the Atlas V rocket for its launch on December 3 – a rocket that's launched dozens of rockets reliably in the past.

This news is a striking reminder that, regardless of how connected and cushy the ISS becomes, these astronauts are still living in space – and in space there's no one to sell you a spare screwdriver when you need one.

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