Astronauts Anne McClain and Nick Hague floated outside the International Space Station Friday to complete the installation of powerful new batteries in the lab’s solar power system, a complex task that began in 2017. Another set of batteries will be installed during another spacewalk next Friday.
NASA’s Anne McClain and Nick Hague took 6 hours and 39 minutes to replace three old nickel-hydrogen batteries with more powerful lithium-ion batteries on the International Space Station. They struggled with a stubborn bolt on the last battery plate, but eventually got the piece of battery equipment out and installed.
Despite the difficulty, the astronauts finished the job faster than NASA planned, so McClain got a chance to do a bit of unusual station cleaning. She took a scraper wrapped with sticky tape and picked up bits of tiny space debris attached to one section of the station.
NASA first started replacing batteries on the ISS in 2017. The original nickel-hydrogen batteries have become less capable of holding a charge over time.
“Just like your rechargeable batteries at home, eventually over time, they’re not going to recharge as well… They’re not going to hold as much charge when it comes to putting loads on them.”
Kenny Todd, the missions operations manager for the ISS, said during a press conference.
NASA has always known that the batteries would need to be replaced eventually, so the agency purchased the newer more efficient lithium-ion batteries a few years ago.
McClain and Hague began their six-hour 39-minute excursion at 8:01 a.m. EDT, floating out of the Quest airlock to kick off the 214th spacewalk since station assembly began in 1998.
The station’s solar array truss stretches the length of a football field and features eight huge solar wings, four on each end arranged in pairs.
The arrays power the station’s myriad systems when the lab is in sunlight and at the same time they re-charge four sets of massive batteries mounted in integrated electronics assemblies, or IEAs. When the station moves into orbital darkness, the batteries kick in to keep the station powered.
NASA also decided to stream the operation live. Today’s spacewalk was the first in a series of three spacewalks scheduled to take place this month. Next Friday (March 29), McClain and NASA astronaut Christina Koch will tackle another spacewalk, only they will be working on another one of the eight power channels. That will be the first all-female spacewalk in history. A third spacewalk, scheduled for April 8, will tackle a different kind of power upgrade — Hague and Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint-Jacques will be working to establish a redundant power supply for the Canadarm2 robotic arm, a 58-foot (18 meters) robot used to grapple and release visiting spacecraft.
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