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The International Space Station is set to receive its second boost of solar energy in a month during a spacewalk on Thursday. 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 kicked off Thursday at about 8:30 a.m. ET and is expected to last for about seven hours. Live coverage began at 7 a.m. ET on the NASA website.
NASA astronauts Josh Casada and Frank Rubio install a solar array 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.
Thursday’s spacewalk is one of many activities aimed at installing solar arrays, called iROSAs, to increase electrical power on the space station.
The first of two solar arrays will be installed outside the station in June 2021. The plan is to add six iROSAs, which will potentially boost power generation on the space station 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 weigh 750 pounds (340 kilograms) and are 10 feet (3 meters) wide.
Casada and Rubio actually installed one outside the space station during the Dec. 3 spacewalk.
During Thursday’s spacewalk, the two will install a solar array to increase capacity in one of the space station’s eight power channels, located on the port gear.
Once the array is disassembled and fixed in place, it will be 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 spacewalk by Roscosmos, when liquid began leaking from Soyuz.
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. NASA is expected to provide an update on the issue Thursday at 11 a.m. ET.
NASA’s Soyuz MS-22 carried Rubio and two Russian cosmonauts to the space station on September 21 and are scheduled to return them to Earth in March.
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