NASA astronauts install a solar panel on the ISS

American Expedition 68 astronauts Josh Cassada and Frank Rubio have installed a fourth new solar panel outside the ISS. Their spacewalk will have lasted more than seven hours.

A new solar panel for the ISS

The plan is still for the International Space Station to be in operation until 2031. Then NASA will use private stations. Meanwhile, the structure is aging more and more, and therefore it is necessary to replace certain components, including the solar panels used to supply the station with energy. These were initially deployed during missions from 2000 to 2009.

Specifically, the new panels (Roll Out Solar Array), flexible and rollable, will be installed on top of the old ones. However, they will be more effective. Once all the hardware is installed, NASA estimates that the total electrical system will produce 215 kilowatts of power against 160 kilowatts provided by existing racks.

NASA is expected to modify six of the eight existing solar panel segments. Each new segment to be installed then requires two spacewalks led by two astronauts. This Thursday, December 22nd, Frank Rubio and Josh Cassada, both flight engineers from the Expedition 68 crew, once again ventured outside the orbital complex to install the fourth of these new solar arrays. The structure was delivered in late November by a SpaceX cargo ship.

More than seven hours in space

The spacewalk was almost a rehearsal for their first extravehicular activity performed nearly three weeks ago in preparation for installation.

The two astronauts began their exit at 14:19 Paris time to finish at 21:27. seven hours and eight minutes later. It was the 257th spacewalk to assemble, upgrade and maintain the space station, and the third spacewalk for these two astronauts.

The new solar panel is exposed in front of the old 4A solar panel wing. Credit: NASA TV

Thursday’s excursion was normally scheduled for Wednesday, but was ultimately delayed at the last minute because large pieces of space debris came dangerously close to the orbital outpost. It was a remnant of the Fregat, a Russian rocket stage used on Soyuz and Zenith rockets.

Finally, note that the two astronauts join two different teams. Josh Cassada is actually part of the Crew-5 mission, which is due to return to Earth in March. Frank Rubio is part of the Russian Soyuz MS-22 mission. The departure schedule for this capsule, which has just suffered a coolant leak, remains uncertain. The Russian and American teams are still evaluating the options, but it may be that the Roscosmos agency finally decides to send an emergency capsule. In that case, it will not arrive until February.

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