Astronauts embark on a spacewalk to boost the power of the ISS
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The International Space Station will receive solar power for the second time in a month during a spacewalk on Thursday. The event comes after a piece of wayward space junk disrupted plans to conduct the spacewalk on Wednesday.
NASA was forced to implement a 24-hour delay so the space station could launch its thrusters to get out of the way of the debris, which was identified as a fragment of a old russian missile. Near-misses in space are commonas low Earth orbit – the region in which the ISS orbits – becomes increasingly clogged with satellites and space debris.
“The crew is not in immediate danger,” NASA writes in a blog post on Wednesday.
The spacewalk began around 8:30 a.m. ET on Thursday and is expected to last about seven hours. Live coverage began at 7 a.m. ET on NASA’s website.
NASA astronauts Josh Cassada and Frank Rubio are working to install a solar array outside the floating lab. Rubio serves as extravehicular crew member 1 and wears a suit with red stripes, while Cassada wears an unmarked white suit as extravehicular crew member 2.
The solar array is expected to deploy around 2 p.m. ET, NASA’s ISS program manager, Joel Montalbano, told reporters Thursday morning.
Thursday’s spacewalk is one of several intended to install roll-out solar panels called iROSAs to boost the space station’s electrical power.
The first two deployable solar panels were installed outside the station in June 2021. The plan is to add six iROSAs, which will likely increase the space station’s power generation by more than 30% once they are all operational.
On November 27, two more arrays were delivered to the space station aboard the 26th SpaceX Dragon commercial resupply mission, which also carried dwarf tomato seeds and other experiments to the orbiting lab. Rolled up like a carpet, the arrays weigh 340 kilograms each and are 3 meters wide.
Cassada and Rubio have already installed one outside the space station during a spacewalk on Dec. 3.
During Thursday’s spacewalk, the two will install a solar array to boost capacity in one of the space station’s eight power channels, located on the port structure.
Once the array is unfolded and bolted into place, it is about 19 meters long and 6 meters wide.
The original solar panels on the space station are still working, but have been providing power for more than 20 years and show signs of use after prolonged exposure to the space environment. The arrays were originally designed to last 15 years.
Erosion can be caused by thruster plumes, which emanate from both the station’s thrusters and those from crew and cargo vehicles coming and going from the station, as well as debris from micrometeorites.
The new solar panels are placed in front of the original ones. It’s a good test because equipment using the same design will power parts of the planned Gateway lunar outpost, which will help people get back to the moon by NASA’s Artemis Program.
The new arrays have a similar life expectancy of 15 years. Since the degradation of the original arrays was expected to be worse, the team will monitor the new ones to test their longevity as they may last longer.
While US spacewalks continue, Russian spacewalks led by cosmonauts aboard the space station are on hold discovery of a coolant leak the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraftwhich is linked to the Russian part of the space station.
The leak was found on Dec. 14 ahead of a planned Russian spacewalk, when liquid began spouting from the Soyuz.
The Soyuz’s external radiator cooling loop is the suspected leak source, according to a Dec. 15 message Updating from NASA.
While the space station crew remained safe, investigations into the leak are ongoing. At a news conference on Thursday, Montalbano said it’s still not clear what caused the spacecraft’s 4-millimeter hole, though it could be a piece of space junk or a hardware problem.
NASA and its Russian counterpart, Roscosmos, are still evaluating whether to bring the Soyuz spacecraft home early and whether it’s safe to bring a crew.
Soyuz MS-22 carried NASA’s Rubio and two Russian cosmonauts to the space station on Sept. 21 and will return them to Earth in March.
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