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Russian cosmonauts prep for spacewalk

Clad in pressurized spacesuits, Russian cosmonauts plan to head outside the International Space Station on Wednesday to hand-release four tiny CubeSats and install hardware for a German experiment to track animal migration.

Russian flight engineers Oleg Artemyev and Sergey Prokopyev are set to head out of the station’s Pirs airlock at 1558 GMT (11:58 a.m. EDT) Wednesday for a spacewalk scheduled to last more than six hours. NASA TV will provide live coverage of the excursion, and a live stream is available on this page.

Wednesday’s spacewalk will be the third in Artemyev’s cosmonaut career, and the first for Prokopyev. It will be the 212th spacewalk dedicated to assembly and maintenance of the International Space Station since 1998, and the 55th staged from the station’s Russian segment.

Their tasks include the deployment — by hand — of four CubeSats built by Russian students.

The spacewalkers will carry with them two Tanyusha satellites, each about the size of a small toaster oven, built by students at Southwestern State University with demo payloads to study spacecraft autonomy technology and to measure the vacuum of space. Another pair of SiriusSat CubeSats, assembled by Russian schoolchildren and equipped with particle detectors, will also be with the cosmonauts.

Prokopyev will toss the four nanosatellites into space by hand just outside the Pirs airlock, using a manual release method used on previous Russian spacewalks. The duo will record video of the deployment for Russian media.

The CubeSats were launched earlier this year inside Russian Progress supply ships.

Russian cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev (left) and Sergey Prokopyev (right) recently put on their Orlan spacesuits to practice procedures for Wednesday’s spacewalk. Credit: Roscosmos

Once the CubeSat deployments are complete, the duo will turn their attention to the installation of antennas and cables for a German-led instrument package to track global animal movements. The equipment will be placed outside the station’s Zvezda service module.

Called Icarus, the project aims to reveal changes in migratory routes, animal connections and other animal behavior. The antenna for Icarus was carried aloft in February, and a computer launched on a Russian Progress mission last year to help process the signals coming from tracking units tagged to animals on Earth.

“Icarus is a global collaboration of research scientists that are interested in life on the globe, and once we put together all the information on mobile animals, then we have a different and new understanding of life on Earth,” said Martin Wikelski, lead scientist on the Icarus project, director of the Max Planck Institute of Ornithology, and professor the University of Konstanz in Germany.

The spacewalkers will set up an antenna boom, route cables and install the Icarus antenna.

Other tasks planned for Wednesday’s spacewalk include the retrieval of materials exposure samples from the hull of the Zvezda service module.

If the cosmonauts have time, they could be assigned a “get-ahead” task of removing and jettisoning a disused Russian experiment package. The jettisoned instrument unit will eventually re-enter Earth’s atmosphere.

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