Spacewalking astronauts replace antenna outside the International Space Station: NASA

  • Spacewalking astronauts replaced a broken antenna outside the International Space Station after getting NASA’s all-clear for orbiting debris.
By AP
| Updated on Dec 02 2021, 10:02 PM IST
Astronauts conduct a spacewalk to replace a faulty antenna on the International Space Station (ISS) in a still image from a NASA video.
Astronauts conduct a spacewalk to replace a faulty antenna on the International Space Station (ISS) in a still image from a NASA video. (via REUTERS)

Spacewalking astronauts replaced a broken antenna outside the International Space Station on Thursday after getting NASA’s all-clear for orbiting debris. U.S. astronauts Tom Marshburn and Kayla Barron were supposed to complete the job Tuesday, but NASA delayed the spacewalk because of potentially threatening space junk. NASA later determined the astronauts were safe to go out, despite a slightly increased risk of a punctured suit from satellite wreckage.

Russia destroyed an old satellite in a missile test nearly three weeks ago, sending pieces everywhere. NASA isn’t saying whether the object of concern was from that event.

During the first National Space Council meeting under Vice President Kamala Harris this week, top U.S. government officials joined her in condemning Russia's extensive debris-scattering last month. More than 1,700 sizable pieces of the shattered satellite are being tracked, with tens if not hundreds of thousands too small to see.

Barron reported at least 11 small debris strikes to the failed antenna that was removed during the spacewalk, with some of the holes looking old. The device — up there for more than 20 years — malfunctioned in September.

Marshburn, 61, became the oldest person to conduct a spacewalk. It was the fourth of his career. Barron, 34, a space rookie, ventured out on her first. They flew up on SpaceX last month for a six-month stay. Two other Americans are aboard the space station, along with two Russians and one German.

Meanwhile, Reuters reports that the objective of the spacewalking astronauts is to remove a defective S-band radio communications antenna assembly, now more than 20 years old, and replace it with a spare stowed outside the space station.

The space station is equipped with other antennae that can perform the same functions, but installing a replacement system ensures an ideal level of communications redundancy, NASA said.

Marshburn will work with Barron while positioned at the end of a robotic arm maneuvered from inside by German astronaut Matthias Maurer of the European Space Agency, with help from NASA crewmate Raja Chari.

The four arrived at the space station Nov. 11 in a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, joining two Russian cosmonauts and a NASA astronaut, Mark Vande Hei, already aboard the orbiting outpost.

Four days later, an anti-satellite missile test conducted without warning by Russia generated a debris field in low-Earth orbit, forcing the seven ISS crew members to take shelter in their docked spaceships to allow for a quick getaway until the immediate danger passed, NASA said.

The residual cloud of debris from the blasted satellite has dispersed since then, according to Dana Weigel, NASA deputy manager of the ISS program.

NASA has calculated that remaining fragments continue to pose a "slightly elevated" background risk to the space station as a whole, and a 7% higher risk of puncturing spacewalkers' suits, as compared to before Russia's missile test, Weigel told reporters on Monday.

NASA determined those risk levels fall within an acceptable range and moved ahead with preparations for a spacewalk on Tuesday as originally planned, only for mission control to delay the EVA mission hours before it was to start.

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First Published Date: 02 Dec, 10:02 PM IST
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