Spacewalking Astronauts Prepare International Space Station For New Solar Arrays

Two spacewalking astronauts began preparing the International Space Station (ISS) for new solar arrays on Sunday (Feb. 28), battling tough bolts to kick off a major power upgrade for the orbiting lab.

Expedition 64 flight engineers Kate Rubins and Victor Glover — both NASA astronauts — spent more than seven hours working outside the station during the spacewalk to install modification kits for the new solar arrays. They worked on the station’s portside edge to install a bracket and support struts on two mast canisters at the base of the outpost’s current solar wings there, but were only able to install one of the kits while assembling a second and storing it for later.

“They completed the construction of upper support hardware and secured it to the space station’s exterior structure until work can be completed on the next spacewalk on Friday, March 5,” NASA officials said in an update.

The ISS, parts of which have been in orbit since 1998, is getting ready for new solar panels. NASA says the oldest set of panels have been operating continuously since December 2000, and are still doing well despite their advertised 15-year service life. (The other pairs were delivered in September 2006, June 2007 and March 2009.) But the arrays don’t generate as much power as they used to, hence a series of spacewalks beginning now.

The new arrays will be smaller than the old ones due to advances in solar technology. They will be installed to roll out in front of the six current arrays, allowing the new installations to use the infrastructure already in place for the existing set, according to NASA. Boeing (the prime contractor for space station operations) will provide the arrays, with the help of its subsidiary Spectrolab and a major supplier, Deployable Space Systems.