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Things are about to get busy on the International Space Station as the first in a series of year-end spacewalks kicked off Tuesday morning.
First-time spacewalkers and NASA astronauts Josh Cassada and Frank Rubio began their excursion outside the space station at 9:14 a.m. ET, with live coverage on NASA website. The event is expected to last about seven hours.
Cassada wears the red-striped spacesuit as a member of Extravehicular Crew 1, while Rubio wears the unmarked suit as a member of Extravehicular Crew 2.
The astronauts will assemble a mounting bracket on the starboard side of the space station frame. Hardware to be installed during the spacewalk was delivered to the space station on November 9 aboard a Northrop Grumman Cygnus spacecraft, which delivered its payload safely. despite only one of its two solar panels being deployed after launch.
This hardware will allow for the installation of more deployable solar arrays, called iROSAs, to give the space station a power boost. The first two deployment solar arrays were installed outside the station in June 2021. Six iROSAs in total are planned and will likely increase the space station’s power generation by more than 30% once all are operational.
During Two more spacewalks on November 28 and December 1, a crew of two astronauts will unroll and install another pair of solar arrays once the mounting hardware is in place. The solar panels will be delivered on the next commercial SpaceX Dragon resupply mission, currently scheduled for launch on November 21.
Spacewalks are part of the space station crew’s routine as they maintain and update the old orbiting laboratory, but Tuesday’s spacewalk is NASA’s first since March. The agency’s spacewalks were halted after the European Space Agency astronaut Matthias Maurer completed his first spacewalk with water in his helmet.
A thin layer of moisture that exceeded the normal expected amount was discovered on Maurer’s helmet once he returned to the airlock after a nearly seven-hour spacewalk. Maurer promptly removed his helmet, in an event NASA deemed “near close”, and water samples, suit hardware, and the spacesuit itself were returned to Earth for research by him. NASA officials determined that the suit did not experience hardware failure.
“The cause of the water in the hull was likely due to integrated system performance where several variables, such as crew effort and crew cooling settings, led to the generation of comparatively larger than normal amounts of condensation within of the system,” according to NASA in a blog post update.
“Based on the findings, the team updated operating procedures and developed new mitigation hardware to minimize scenarios where integrated performance results in water buildup, while absorbing any water that appears. These measures will help contain any liquid in the hull to continue to keep the crew safe.”
NASA officials gave the go-ahead for spacewalks to resume after concluding the review in October.
The research team has developed techniques to manage temperatures in the suit and added new absorption bands to the hull, said Dina Contella, operations integration manager for the International Space Station Program.
The thin orange pieces have been placed on different parts of the hull, which has already been tested in orbit by astronauts inside the space station.
“We took several different models of this and the crew on board spilled water, essentially trying to inject water into the hull at the same rate that would be the worst case scenario. And we found these pads to be very, very effective,” Contella said.
Tuesday’s spacewalk will allow the crew to test the new pads while working outside the space station ahead of more complex solar panel installation spacewalks in the next two weeks.
Meanwhile, a Russian spacewalk is scheduled for Thursday. Cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin will begin their trek at 9 am ET to work on the exterior of Nauka’s multipurpose laboratory module. The duo will prepare a radiator for transfer from the Rassvet module to Nauka during their seven-hour spacewalk, which will also be streamed live on NASA’s website.