Two astronauts floated outside the International Space Station on Friday to replace ageing batteries for the laboratory’s solar power system, an upgrade needed to keep the outpost running into the next decade, NASA said.
NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Soichi Noguchi switched their spacesuits to battery power at 6:37 a.m. EST to begin the spacewalk, which is expected to last for about six and a half hours.
Rubins and Noguchi will traverse out the station’s backbone truss structure to the far left (port) side set of solar arrays, the first pair of solar arrays deployed in December 2000. The spacewalkers will work together to complete the installation and configuration of modification kits on solar arrays 4B and 2B, which will enable new solar arrays to be installed to augment the space station’s power supply.
Following solar array modification kit configuration, the Rubins will conduct cable routing for the Bartolomeo platform Parking Position Interface (PAPOS) on the Columbus module, Noguchi will replace a Wireless Video System External Transceivers Assembly (WETA), and the pair will perform other get-ahead work as time permits.
This is the 236th spacewalk in support of space station assembly.
The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration expects it will take about three years to complete the space station’s power system upgrade, which will keep it operational until at least 2024.
Before this month’s spacewalks, ground control teams used the station’s robotic arm to move the new batteries into position and remove the old ones. This robotics work cut the number of spacewalks needed for the project from six to two, NASA said.
The solar-powered station draws power from the batteries when it flies in darkness, circling about 250 miles (400 km) above Earth.
The space station, which is about the size of a five-bedroom house, is a $100 billion research laboratory, owned and operated by 16 nations.