A sudden malfunction in the International Space Station’s American-built attitude controls may be connected to a large solar flare form earlier this week, NASA flight director Joel Montalbano reported today.

The ISS relies on a total of four giant gyroscopes (one is offline now) that spin in order to maintain poper attitude control, all without using too much fuel. It takes only two gyroscopes to maintain the ISS’s orientation, so that’s still one extra working as of today. The ISS also has Russian thrusters and can be reoriented by docked spacecraft, such as Russian Soyuz and Progress, and NASA shuttles.

So far, solar activity has not endangered any of the astronauts, but extra precautions were established earlier this week as safeguards by NASA. Spacewalkers reported that the solar flare may have made some vivid auroras that they saw as they worked outside the ISS yesterday.

While NASA is largely unconcerned about recent solar activity, the European Space Agency (ESA) has taken steps to avoid damage to spacecraft after several acted differently just after the occurence of the recent solar flares. Other ESA missions, including Envisat and Integral, also appeared to be affected. In all three instances, precautions were put in place to protect the spacecrafts’ sensors from solar flares damage.

NASA and ESA will continue to monitor the situation, especially since the coming round of solar flares are to be the most active in recent centuries.


[Edited by Simon – Typos]

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