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Has it ever been done, or is anyone working on, redeployable solar arrays? In other words, a solar cell array that can be deployed in space, used for a period, and then folded up again into the ship, to be reused later. Outside of the SpaceX paradigm of a reusable lift and land vehicle it's hard to think of why it might be done. Perhaps some vehicle had too much acceleration for it's delicate arrays, and so it folded them just during course corrections.

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  • $\begingroup$ In space there's no reason for high thrust engines, why would it be too much for the arrays? $\endgroup$ – Loren Pechtel Nov 8 '19 at 5:27
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    $\begingroup$ space.stackexchange.com/questions/23946/… $\endgroup$ – BowlOfRed Nov 8 '19 at 5:54
  • $\begingroup$ @LorenPechtel Sure there is - just not yet, because we're not sending humans any great distance. In the world of Sci-Fi, one would absolutely design collapsible solar arrays (and comms antennae, etc) for a ship intended for long-haul and multiple stops/deployments. $\endgroup$ – Carl Witthoft Nov 8 '19 at 14:28
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    $\begingroup$ @CarlWitthoft The cases where you might want to furl a solar array all involve landing somewhere, not being in space. $\endgroup$ – Loren Pechtel Nov 8 '19 at 22:58
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The Lunokhod 1 had a redeploy-able solar "array"-- that being said it was more of a close-able lid with panels placed on the bottom of it. It was both for maintaining the internal temperature of the rover during the lunar dark periods and could be unfolded as needed to recharge its batteries.

The vehicle was powered by batteries which were recharged during the lunar day by a solar cell array mounted on the underside of the lid. To be able to work in a vacuum, special fluoride-based lubricant was used for the mechanical parts, and the electric motors (one in each wheel hub) were enclosed in pressurized containers.[4] During the lunar nights, the lid was closed, and a polonium-210 radioisotope heater unit kept the internal components at operating temperature.

Looks like special lubricants were designed to allow for the mechanical pieces to function in vacuum during MET, so I thought this was interesting enough to post as a small answer. Seems like they had to at least have design considerations for the "redeployability" of the "solar array" (lid).

(Citation from wikipedia extended references).

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  • $\begingroup$ Most solar powered lunar landers have this ability actually... $\endgroup$ – PearsonArtPhoto Jan 5 at 3:14
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    $\begingroup$ @PearsonArtPhoto I wasn't saying that others don't, this is just the earliest example I found, and knew of offhand. $\endgroup$ – Magic Octopus Urn Jan 6 at 3:11
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Yes, kind of. One of the ISS solar panels was actually rolled up so they could move it to a different part of the station. The P6 truss and solar array was relocated during STS-120. During some of the movement they actually folded the panels back up to the same configuration that they were as launched. This caused a few issues, however, and is generally not recommended.

To my knowledge, it hasn't been done anywhere else, simply because there isn't a reason to. Small thrusts are most effective once you are in space. The exceptions would be for landing missions, which tend to have a cruise stage that uses solar panels and is destroyed, or a sample return mission, which has only been done from the Moon and could rely on battery power. I don't think either stowed the solar panels used.

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  • $\begingroup$ If anything on this page applies feel free to incorporate: How does ROSA unroll? (Roll Out Solar Array) I don't know if anything there discusses rolling things back up again. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Jan 3 at 6:00
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    $\begingroup$ Can ISS fold its solar panels? $\endgroup$ – SF. Jan 4 at 19:18
  • $\begingroup$ The general consensus within the ISS program regarding SAW stow and redeploy is "never again." Some solar arrays have suffered damage over the years that, while not affecting deployed operations, make safe stowage impossible. $\endgroup$ – Tristan Jan 6 at 14:45
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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh the ROSA array did attempt to roll back up (rolling back up was only for disposal at the end of the test and wasn't strictly necessary). It didn't work right (it ended up telescoping, sort of like when you try to wind toilet paper back onto the roll), and they ended up jettisoning it rather than stuffing it back in the dragon trunk. The IROSA arrays they are sending up in a couple years that are based on the ROSA design are one-shot devices and don't have any hardware that would enable them to be rolled back up. $\endgroup$ – Tristan Jan 6 at 14:49
  • $\begingroup$ @Tristan okay I understand what you mean (re telescoping), thank you for the update $\endgroup$ – uhoh Jan 6 at 19:59
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The X-37 is believed to have a stow able solar panel, but given it's nature somewhat vague. Photos of it in orbit suggest it deploys a single panel out one side, and presumably recovers it prior to landing rather than jettisoning it.

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