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Astronauts complete seven-hour spacewalk ahead of major ISS solar array upgrade

Image credit: DT

Two Nasa astronauts completed a gruelling seven-hour spacewalk yesterday as they prepared the International Space Station (ISS) for an upgrade to its solar arrays.

Finishing just after 6p.m. UK time, Kate Rubins and Victor Glover successfully installed modification kits required for the upcoming upgrades.

The duo worked near the farthest set of existing solar arrays on the station’s left side, known as P6.

Glover built a bracket structure and worked with Rubins to attach the bracket and support struts to the mast canister, the base, of one of the P6 solar arrays, known as 2B.

One of the bolts did not fully engage on the first attempt, so Rubins used a power drill to back it out and reseat it, then used a ratchet wrench to tighten the bolt.

The bolt will probably need to be secured further before installing one of the new solar arrays that will be delivered to the space station later this year aboard a resupply mission by SpaceX.

With more people boarding and more experiments taking place on the ISS than before, Nasa believes the solar arrays will be needed to provide the additional power needed to keep everything running.

The new solar arrays that are yet to be installed will be positioned in front of six of the current arrays and will increase the station’s total available power from 160kW to up to 215kW. They will be installed at an angle so that both sets can continue to function.

Boeing is supplying the new roll-up panels, about half the size of the old ones but just as powerful thanks to the latest solar cell technology.

The current solar arrays are functioning well but have begun to show signs of degradation, as expected, as they were designed for a 15-year service life.

This was the third career spacewalk for both Rubins and Glover, with both having spent nearly 20 hours in total outside the space station.

Rubins is set to float back out on Friday with Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi to finish the solar panel prep work, and to vent and relocate ammonia coolant hoses.

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