CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA – On Friday, astronauts completed their third spacewalk in less than a week, unfurling a new pair of solar panels outside the International Space Station.
Shane Kimbrough of NASA and Thomas Pesquet of France have completed the second of a series of strong solar wings that will keep the space station functioning for the remainder of this decade when space tourism begins in the autumn.
As electricity rushed through the panel, Mission Control radioed, “We have a lot of smiling faces down here.”
It was supposed to be a two-spacewalk task, but the astronauts’ work on June 16 was delayed by spacesuit and other issues. As a result, the first solar wing wasn’t fully extended until Sunday, at a length of 63 feet (19 meters). NASA scheduled the third spacewalk for Friday to attach and unfurl the second wing, which went off without a hitch 255 miles (410 kilometers) above the ground.
The newest solar wing unrolled like a gigantic length of wallpaper high over the Bering Sea after Pesquet fired the final bolt. The gradual but steady expansion took ten minutes.
As a safety measure, the majority of the activity took place on the nightside of Earth during the 6 1/2-hour spacewalks. While the astronauts had their hands on the power grid, NASA did not want any solar panels soaking up sunlight and generating power.
SpaceX deployed two solar panels earlier this month that aren’t quite as large as the station’s original wings. However, new technology allows them to generate more power. NASA intends to launch four additional panels this year, with Boeing supplying them.
The space station’s oldest solar wings, which have deteriorated after 20 years of continuous operation, will be supplemented by this first set.
Kimbrough and Pesquet have been on a six-month assignment for two months. Two more Americans, as well as one Japanese and two Russians, are on board the space station.