Solar Panel Glitch in Cygnus Cargo

Cygnus cargo spacecraft was launched recently to dispatch cargo to International Space Stations. After being launched on an Antares rocket from Virginia, the Cygnus spacecraft carrying out the NG-18 mission for NASA was supposed to deploy its two circular UltraFlex solar arrays some three hours later. The arrays provide the spaceship with 3.5 kilowatts of power.

However, a solar array did not open after the launch due to a technical glitch, causing the mission objectives to be at stake. The solar arrays on previous Cygnus flights unfolded without incident, but a larger version of the arrays on NASA’s Lucy asteroid mission had a problem. Shortly after launch, one of the two circular arrays failed to deploy and latch into position fully.

The solar array opens in different stages for every satellite; deployments stages differ from satellite to satellite; considering an example of the solar orbiter by ESA and NASA; The solar arrays unfold to roughly 40% in four minutes during the initial phase of the deployment, which occurs around five minutes after separation and is spring-driven. The solar arrays will be fully extended by the second component, which is motorised. This section lasts for roughly ten minutes. After the spacecraft separates, the solar arrays will have fully expanded by the end of around 40 minutes.

Deployment of the solar panel is significant for the smooth functioning of the satellite, as all the power generated is done through the same, and any glitches in the same take a toll on the mission objectives. Understanding the cyber aspects of it, considering the case of the Solar orbiter where 60% of the elongation takes place through the motor, if a threat actor wants to jeopardise the mission objectives, one can target the motor functioning. Thus every mission has to understand the worst possible scenarios that can harm the mission objectives.