Emerging Tech

Spacewalk a success as astronauts upgrade batteries on the ISS

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NASA astronauts Nick Hague (top) and Anne McClain work to swap batteries in the Port-4 truss structure during the spacewalk. NASA

The International Space Station (ISS) was treated to some new batteries on Friday, thanks to the NASA astronauts who took a spacewalk for nearly seven hours in order to complete the upgrades.

This was the first spacewalk for both of the two astronauts, Nick Hague and Anne McClain, who are members of the Expedition 59 crew. They spent a total of six hours and 39 minutes on their mission to replace the older nickel-hydrogen batteries used for the ISS’s power system, starting at 8:01 a.m. EDT.

The batteries were replaced with newer lithium-ion batteries which have improved power capacity as well as a smaller size and lighter mass. In order to perform the upgrade, adapter plates had to be installed and electrical connections for three of the six new batteries had to be hooked up. In addition to upgrading the power system, the astronauts also took the opportunity to spruce up the exterior of the space station by removing debris, securing fabric restraints, and documenting the tools available for contingency repairs.

The batteries on the ISS get plenty of use as they store the power collected by the station’s solar arrays. They are recharged when the station is in direct sunlight, then they are used to power the station’s systems when it orbits the Earth and is out of view of the Sun during “orbital night.”

This spacewalk was just one step in upgrading the batteries. It was part of a large-scale upgrade to many of the power systems in the station which astronauts have been working on since 2017. Next week two astronauts will take a spacewalk to the same area of the station to install a second set of new batteries, and in the future more batteries will be added or swapped out as they arrive at the station.

Next week’s spacewalk, scheduled for March 29, has the distinction of being the first ever spacewalk with an all-female team. Anne McClain will be joined by flight engineer Christina Koch for a spacewalk which fortuitously coincides with Women’s History Month.

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