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UK-built kit to be installed on ISS during gruelling spacewalk

Image credit: DT

Two astronauts are undertaking a spacewalk to install UK-funded technology on the International Space Station (ISS), marking the UK’s first major industrial contribution to the spacecraft.

Called ColKa for ‘Columbus Ka-band Terminal’, the UK Space Agency-funded system enables scientists in the UK and Europe to access the results of their space-based experiments, from investigations into the effects of radiation on seeds to biomining research.

Astronauts and researchers will use the new technology to access a dedicated link back to Earth at home broadband speeds.

Currently, results are returned to Earth on a hard drive, which can take months to receive depending on flight schedules, with data sometimes being lost in transit.

The new terminal will enable results to be delivered to scientists just a day or two after the data is recorded – allowing scientists to process information much more quickly and adjust experiments if they see any problems with the data, such as an unclear image.

Nasa’s Victor Glover and Michael Hopkins will venture outside the space station for six hours to mount the UK-built large suitcase-sized device to the European Space Agency’s Columbus module on the ISS.

Science minister Amanda Solloway said: “This mission to install pioneering UK-built technology in space exemplifies how government backing is helping our most innovative companies push the boundaries of what we can achieve in space as well as back home on Earth.

“Strengthening the speed at which data can be transmitted from space will bring enormous benefits to scientists and researchers across Europe, helping them progress vital research faster, while opening up numerous commercial opportunities for UK firms as we build back better.”

Tethered to the ISS by a retractable steel cable, the astronauts face challenging conditions as they work to install the terminal, orbiting Earth at an altitude of 250 miles.

The astronauts will go without food for hours as they work in the harsh thermal vacuum of space, where the temperature can be as hot as 120°C in the sunlight, down to -160°C when the Sun is out of sight.

The data will be transmitted to a ground station at Harwell Campus, Oxfordshire, near the European Space Agency’s European Centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications, and from there it will be transferred to the Columbus Control Centre and user centres across Europe.

Meanwhile, SpaceX has arranged for three men to be sent into space on a private trip for around £40m a ticket.

“This is the first private flight to the International Space Station. It’s never been done before,” said Mike Suffredini, the chief executive for Axiom Space who arranged the trip.

The private crew will spend eight days at the space station, and will take one or two days to get there aboard a SpaceX Dragon capsule following lift-off from Cape Canaveral.

Russia has been in the off-planet tourism business for years, selling rides to the International Space Station since 2001.

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