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The International Space Station got its second solar boost in a month as two NASA astronauts took a spacewalk to install a new solar panel. The event comes after a piece of space junk interfered with plans to take a spacewalk on Wednesday.
NASA had to implement a 24-hour delay so the space station could fire off its thrusters to get out of the way of the debris, which was identified as part of an old Russian rocket. Close collisions in space are a common occurrence, as low-Earth orbit – the region in which the International Space Station orbits – has become increasingly crowded with satellites and space junk.
“The crew is in no immediate danger,” NASA noted in a blog post on Wednesday.
The spacewalk launched Thursday around 8:30 a.m. ET and lasted about seven hours.
NASA astronauts Josh Casada and Frank Rubio have installed a new solar array, called iROSA, outside the floating laboratory. Rubio serves as EV1 crew member and wears a red striped suit, while Casada wears an unmarked white suit as EV2.
The solar array deployed around 2 p.m. ET, completing the primary goal of the spacewalk. Rubio and Casada returned to the ISS airlock, wrapping up the event, about an hour later.
Casada and Rubio actually installed one solar array outside the space station during the Dec. 3 spacewalk. The first two iROSAs were deployed outside the station in June 2021. The plan is to add six clusters, which will likely boost the space station’s power generation by more than 30% once they are all operational.
Two more arrays were delivered to the space station Nov. 27 aboard SpaceX Dragon’s commercial resupply mission 26, which also carried dwarf tomato seeds and other experiments to the orbiting lab. Rolled up like a carpet, the arrays weighed 750 lb (340 kg) each.
The solar array installed Thursday will increase capacity in one of the space station’s eight power channels, located on the port gear. During the spacewalk webcast, a NASA commentator confirmed that the newly installed iROSA is indeed generating power for the International Space Station.
The solar array, fully disassembled, is approximately 63 feet (19 m) long and 20 feet (6 m) wide.
The original solar arrays on the space station are still functional, but they’ve been providing power for over 20 years and are showing signs of wear. After prolonged exposure to the space environment. The arrays were originally designed to last 15 years.
Erosion can be caused by the thrusters, which come from both the station’s thrusters and those of crew and freight vehicles coming and going from the station, as well as small meteorite debris.
The new solar arrays are placed in front of the original arrays. It’s a good test because equipment using the same design will power parts of the planned Gateway lunar outpost, which will help humans return to the Moon through NASA’s Artemis program.
The new arrays will have a similar life expectancy of 15 years. However, since the degradation in the original matrices was expected to be worse, the team will monitor the new matrices. To test its longevity as it may last longer.
While US spacewalks continue, flights by Russian cosmonauts aboard the space station are suspended after a coolant leak was discovered from the space station. The Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft, docked at the Russian part of the space station.
The leak was found on December 14 before a planned Russian spacewalk, when liquid began leaking from the Soyuz spacecraft.
Soyuz’s outer coolant cooling loop is the suspected source of the leak, according to a December 15 update from NASA.
While the space station crew remained safe, the investigation into the leak is still ongoing. During a news conference Thursday, NASA’s International Space Station program manager Joel Montalbano said it’s still not clear what caused the 4-millimeter hole in the spacecraft, though it could be a piece of mobile debris or a hardware problem.
NASA and its Russian counterpart Roscosmos are still assessing whether the spacecraft is safe to carry a crew.
NASA’s Soyuz MS-22 carried Rubio and two Russian cosmonauts to the space station on September 21 and were scheduled to return them to Earth in March.
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