Astronauts Install New Solar Panels in 6-Hour Spacewalk

The spacewalk came days after facing "technical delays" during a spacewalk. The astronauts carried over some of the work that was left unfinished due to the issues.

Spacewalking astronauts equipped the International Space Station with the first in a series of powerful new solar panels, overcoming suit problems and other obstacles with muscle and persistence.

It took two spacewalks for French astronaut Thomas Pesquet and NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough to install and unfurl the panel to its full 63 feet (19 meters) in length.

The solar wing unrolled like a red carpet once the final set of bolts was released, relying solely on pent-up energy. The slow but steady extension took 10 minutes, with station cameras providing live TV views.

Spacewalk for Solar Panels

NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough and European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet conducted a spacewalk, their second in the past week to install new solar arrays that will provide a power boost to the space station.

The spacewalk came days after facing "technical delays" during a spacewalk on Wednesday. The astronauts carried over some of Wednesday's work that was left unfinished due to the issues.

The walk began at about 8 a.m. ET and lasted for six hours and 28 minutes, NASA said. The astronauts successfully unfolded the solar array, bolted it into place, and connected cables to the station's power supply, according to NASA.
They also removed and stowed hardware in preparation for installing another solar array at a future spacewalk.

View During Installation

“It is beautiful,” Pesquet called out. “Well done, both of you,” Mission Control replied once the operation was complete. “That was great to see.”

As the 6 1/2-hour spacewalks concluded, Kimbrough, who has three children, wished “Happy Father’s Day” to all the flight controller dads. “Thanks for working with us on a Sunday.”

The astronauts started Sunday’s spacewalk picking up where they left off when a string of problems prevented them from unrolling the high-tech solar panel.

“Remember: You are butterflies with biceps today,” astronaut Megan McArthur radioed from inside.

Mission Control

The solar arrays arrived at the space station on June 5 after launching on the 22nd SpaceX Dragon cargo resupply mission. The space station's robotic Canadarm2 was used to remove the solar arrays from the spacecraft last week. The arrays are rolled up like a carpet and are 750 pounds (340 kilograms) and 10 feet (3 meters) wide.

After pushing and tugging, the spacewalkers managed to unfold and align the solar panel so both halves were now end to end, resembling a roll of paper towels. Their shout of “Woo-hoo!” was met with applause in Mission Control. 

The two had to wait until they were back on the night side of Earth and the station’s old solar panels were no longer soaking up sunlight and generating power before making the final power connections. Otherwise, they could be shocked.

While awaiting darkness, the camera-and-light assembly on Kimbrough’s helmet came loose, even though he’d switched to a different suit to avoid the trouble he encountered last time.

Pesquet did his best to secure it with wire ties, as the minutes ticked by. His effort paid off, and the final step the actual unfurling went off without a hitch.

This new solar wing with five more to come will give the aging station a much-needed electrical boost, as demand for experiments and space tourists grows.

Spacewalk in Progress

NASA originally allotted two spacewalks for the job, one for each solar panel being installed. But managers added the third spacewalk, given all the earlier problems. Pesquet and Kimbrough will go back out Friday to complete work on the second panel delivered by SpaceX earlier this month.

This first pair will augment the space station’s oldest solar wings, which are degrading after 20 years of continuous operation. SpaceX will deliver two more pairs over the next year. 

Although smaller than the originals, the new solar panels supplied by Boeing can generate considerably more power. The space station needs this reenergization if NASA hopes to keep the space station running the rest of this decade, with private guests paying millions of dollars to come aboard.

A Russian film crew is scheduled to launch to the orbiting outpost this fall from Kazakhstan, followed by a string of rich businessmen. SpaceX is providing rides from Cape Canaveral.

Recently the display control panel on Kimbrough’s suit conked out and he had to return to the airlock to reset it. Then his cooling system registered a momentary pressure spike. Engineers are still evaluating what went wrong.

Final Statements

"The exposed portion of the old arrays will still be generating power in parallel with the new arrays, but those new Iris arrays have solar cells on them that are more efficient than our original cells," Weigel said. 

"They have a higher energy density and together in combination may generate more power than what our original array, when it was new, did on its own."

The new arrays will have a similar 15-year expected life span. However, since the degradation on the original arrays was expected to be worse, the team will monitor the new arrays to test their true longevity because they may last longer.

Written By - Bhagyadeep Jena

Edited By - Gunika Manchanda

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