Astronauts worked to install another new solar panel outside the International Space Station on Friday, making their third spacewalk in just over a week.
NASA’s Shane Kimbrough and France’s Thomas Pesquet tackled the second in a series of powerful solar wings that should keep the space station running the rest of this decade, as space tourism ramps up with visitors beginning in the fall.
It should have been a two-spacewalk job, but spacesuit and other problems hampered the astronauts’ work on June 16. As a result, the first solar wing wasn’t unfurled to its full length of 63 feet (19 meters) until Sunday. NASA added a third spacewalk for Friday to attach and unfold the second wing.
To avoid electrical shocks, Kimbrough and Pesquet had to conduct most of their work on the nighttime side of Earth. That way, the station’s solar panels were not soaking up sunlight and generating power.
The two solar panels delivered by SpaceX earlier this month aren’t nearly as big as the station’s original wings. But they produce more electricity because of new tech. NASA plans to send up four more panels over the coming year; Boeing is supplying them.
This first pair will supplement the space station’s oldest solar wings, degraded after 20 years of continuous operation.
Kimbrough and Pesquet are two months into a six-month mission. Two other Americans are aboard the space station, along with one Japanese and two Russians.