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US and French astronauts make ISS spacewalk

US and French astronauts make ISS spacewalk

European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet (R) holding a space drill during spacewalk to complete work on the IROSA Solar Array.

European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet (R) holding a space drill during spacewalk to complete work on the IROSA Solar Array.

A French and an American astronaut embarked on a spacewalk on Sunday to complete the installation of new solar panels to boost power supplies to the International Space Station (ISS), they announced on Twitter.

“Here we go again for episode (2) of the new solar array installation spacewalks,” tweeted Thomas Pesquet, a Frenchman with the European Space Agency.

“It is a huge team effort each time and couldn’t be happier to return with @astro_kimbrough,” he said, referring to his American colleague Shane Kimbrough, a Nasa astronaut.

The two men activated the internal batteries in their space suits at 11H42 GMT, then opened the hatch to the ISS airlock.

Their mission includes installing six new-generation solar panels, referred to as iROSA.

The new panels, which will power both daily operations and the research and science projects carried out on the ISS, are expected to have a 15-year lifespan.

A first effort on Wednesday ran into several snags, notably problems with Kimbrough’s spacesuit. He temporarily lost data on his spacesuit display unit, and then suffered a brief spike in the suit’s pressure reading.

Sunday’s outing was the fourth time the two astronauts had ventured into space together.

In addition to Wednesday’s spacewalk, they did so twice on a 2017 mission, attached by tethers to the space station as it orbits the Earth at an altitude of some 250 miles (400 kilometres).

In all, there have been 240 ISS spacewalks as astronauts carry out the work of assembling and maintaining, as well as upgrading, the station.

Spacewalking astronauts equipped the International Space Station with the first in a series of powerful new solar panels Sunday, overcoming suit problems and other obstacles with muscle and persistence.

It took two spacewalks for French astronaut Thomas Pesquet and Nasa astronaut Shane Kimbrough to install and unfurl the panel to its full 63 feet (19 metres) in length.

The solar wing unrolled like a red carpet once the final set of bolts was released, relying solely on pent-up energy. The slow but steady extension took 10 minutes, with station cameras providing live TV views.

“It is beautiful,” Pesquet called out.

“Well done, both of you,” Mission Control replied once the operation was complete. “That was great to see.”

The astronauts started Sunday’s spacewalk picking up where they left off Wednesday, when a string of problems prevented them from unrolling the high-tech solar panel.

“Remember: You are butterflies with biceps today,” astronaut Megan McArthur radioed from inside.

After pushing and tugging, the spacewalkers managed to unfold and align the solar panel so both halves were now end to end, resembling a roll of paper towels. Their shout of “Woo-hoo!” was met with applause in Mission Control.

The two had to wait until they were back on the night side of Earth — and the station’s old solar panels were no longer soaking up sunlight and generating power — before making the final power connections. Otherwise, they could be shocked.

While awaiting darkness, the camera-and-light assembly on Kimbrough’s helmet came loose, even though he’d switched to a different suit to avoid the trouble he encountered last time. Pesquet did his best to secure it with wire ties, as the minutes ticked by. His effort paid off, and the final step — the actual unfurling — went off without a hitch.

This new solar wing — with five more to come — will give the aging station a much needed electrical boost, as demand for experiments and space tourists grows.

NASA originally allotted two spacewalks for the job — one for each solar panel being installed. But managers added a third spacewalk, given all the earlier problems. Pesquet and Kimbrough will go back out Friday to complete work on the second panel delivered by Space X earlier this month.

This first pair will augment the space station’s oldest solar wings, which are degrading after 20 years of continuous operation.

SpaceX will deliver two more pairs over the next year.

Although smaller than the originals, the new solar panels supplied by Boeing can generate considerably more power. The space station needs this reenergizing if NASA hopes to keep the space station running the rest of this decade, with private guests paying millions of dollars to come aboard.

A Russian film crew is scheduled to launch to the orbiting outpost this fall from Kazakhstan, followed by a string of rich businessmen. SpaceX is providing the rides from Cape Canaveral.

On Wednesday, the display control panel on Kimbrough’s suit conked out and he had to return to the air lock to reset it. Then his cooling system registered a momentary pressure spike. Engineers are still evaluating what went wrong.

“Space is hard,” Kimbrough tweeted last week.