Power on: new solar arrays installed over three spacewalks

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Science & Exploration

29/06/2021
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ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet and NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough performed three spacewalks in the span of 10 days to install two new solar arrays that will generate more electricity on the International Space Station.

Episode 1

On the first spacewalk on 16 June, Shane and Thomas collected the solar arrays, released them from their carrier and moved them to the installation site on the port side of the Station.

A small technical problem in Shane’s spacesuit required him to return to the airlock and restart his Display and Control Module. This module provides astronauts with continuous information on pressure, temperature and other vital data during a spacewalk. Though the restart was successful and Shane was in no danger, the extra steps delayed the duo’s work, preventing them from completing installation of the first new solar array as planned. The spacewalk ended after 7 hours and 15 minutes.

Mission planners quickly adjusted the planning for the Space Station and on 20 June Shane and Thomas were helped into their spacesuits again for their fourth spacewalk together. This time it was to complete installation of the first new solar array and get ahead on the second.

Spacewalk season timelapse, episode 1

Episode 2

Thomas Pesquet on second Alpha spacewalk

During this second spacewalk the duo unfolded the solar arrays that are rolled into tubes for transport, aligned them, connected data cables and secured them to the mounting bracket. As an extra safety precaution, they connected the power lines during orbital night to avoid any chance of electric shock.

As Thomas and Shane waited for the night to arrive, Shane’s helmet lights and camera partially detached from his helmet but Thomas used some wire to successfully reattach them as a temporary fix.

From there the spacewalk went smoothly. Shane and Thomas connected the new solar array, watched it unfurl and prepared for the installation of the second new solar array. The second spacewalk lasted 6 hours and 28 minutes, with the duo arriving back at the airlock at 20:10 CEST (19:10 BST).

Spacewalk season timelapse, episode 2

Episode 3

Thomas Pesquet on third Alpha spacewalk

A third and final spacewalk for the duo happened on June 25 to finish installing the second pair of new solar arrays. This spacewalk proceeded without problems, and the two new solar arrays are already working and supplying power to the Space Station.

The design of the new solar arrays will be used to power the lunar Gateway that will be built in an orbit around the Moon – the next outpost in space for the agencies that run the International Space Station.

Thomas has now spent exactly 33 hours on spacewalks, all with Shane over the course of two spaceflights.

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