Spacewalkers continue battery replacement work

Astronauts Drew Morgan and Christina Koch floated back outside the International Space Station early Friday for the second of five planned spacewalks needed to replace a set of 12 aging solar array batteries with six more-powerful lithium-ion power packs.

The spacewalk began amid news from Moscow that legendary cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, the first human to walk in space in 1965 and commander of the Soyuz spacecraft that docked with a NASA Apollo capsule in 1975, has died after a long illness. He was 85.

The two-time Hero of the Soviet Union was a widely respected elder statesman in the international space community, honored by spacewalking cosmonauts during an excursion outside the space station earlier this year. 

Astronaut Drew Morgan floats outside the International Space Station’s Quest airlock at the start of a planned 6.5-hour spacewalk with crewmate Christina Koch, the second of five planned EVAs to install fresh batteries in the station’s solar power system. NASA TV

Meanwhile, floating in the lab’s Quest airlock 260 miles up, Morgan and Koch switched their spacesuits to battery power at 7:38 a.m. EDT to officially kick off the 220th space station assembly and maintenance EVA since construction began in 1998.

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For identification, Morgan, call sign EV-1, was wearing a suit with red stripes and using helmet camera No. 18 while Koch, EV-2, was wearing an unmarked suit and using helmetcam 11.

After making their way to the far left end of the station’s power truss, half a football field away from the lab’s pressurized living compartments, Koch and Morgan planned to continue work they started Oct. 6 when they removed three older nickel-hydrogen batteries and installed two of the more efficient li-ion units.

Because one new battery replaces two of the older models, the astronauts also are installing and wiring in six adapter plates where older batteries were removed.

The space station is equipped with eight huge solar array wings arranged in pairs, four on each end of the power truss. Each pair of wings is equipped with an integrated electronics assembly, or IEA, that originally were loaded with 12 nickel-hydrogen batteries each to provide electricity when the lab complex flies through Earth’s shadow.

Each IEA services two of the station’s eight electrical channels.

To keep the station operating at peak efficiency through the 2020s, NASA is in the process of replacing all 48 of the original batteries with 24 of the more powerful lithium-ion models. Two sets of six were installed in 2017 and 2018 for the left and right inboard arrays and the third set is being installed this month on the far left side of the truss.

A final set of six will be delivered to the space station next year for the far right side solar arrays.

During their first spacewalk last week, Morgan and Koch removed three of the six nickel-hydrogen batteries that fed power channel 2B and installed two li-ion replacements. By the end of their second EVA, the astronauts were expected to have removed the remaining three nickel-hydrogen units and installed channel 2B’s third and final li-ion battery, along with the required adapter plates.

Power channel 4B will be serviced during the remaining spacewalks.

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