Cosmonauts begin Russian spacewalk to integrate new ISS module

Two Russian cosmonauts are conducting a spacewalk at the International Space Station (ISS) to fully configure and integrate the outpost’s newest module to support future operations. 

The two spacewalkers, Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov, began their spacewalk at 12:17:31 UTC and are scheduled to spend about seven hours outside the station, mainly working on cables, handrails, and antennas.

Spacewalk procedures

Russian EVA-51 is being performed by cosmonauts Pyotr Dubrov and Anton Shkaplerov, wearing Russian Orlan spacesuits. Both have conducted Extravehicular Activities (EVAs, or spacewalks) before, and Dubrov will wear the suit with the blue stripes while Shkaplerov will wear the suit with the red stripes.

The main tasks for today’s EVA will revolve around readying the new Node Module, Prichal, to support future dockings by Soyuz and Progress spacecraft, including installation of hardware to allow for automated rendezvous and dockings.

To help effect this, several now-unneeded items from Prichal’s rendezvous and docking with the ISS in November 2021 will be removed or repurposed.

 

The first task for the duo after exiting the Mini Research Module-2 (MRM-2), also named Poisk, airlock will be to set up a manually operated Strela crane. This telescopic crane, which is mounted to the outside of Poisk, will be extended down to the Multipurpose Laboratory Module (MLM), named Nauka.

Nauka arrived at the ISS in July 2021 after an eventful post-launch period in orbit.

For today’s EVA, Dubrov and Shkaplerov will secure the other end of the Strela crane to a handrail on Nauka. Strela will then essentially act as a very long handrail, or bridge, between Poisk and Nauka, allowing cosmonauts to transit between the two modules more quickly.

After securing Strela, cosmonauts will then transfer equipment to the worksite at the junction between Nauka and the newly arrived Prichal, which will be the focus area for today’s activities.

Shkaplerov and Dubrov will then remove thermal covers from several handrails and tether points, following which they will install the first of two short-cuts between handrails to afford future spacewalkers better translation options between areas on the outside of Nauka and Prichal.

Next on the schedule is the installation of several cables for the automated Kurs rendezvous system that need to be properly routed between Nauka and Prichal now that both modules are safely together at the ISS.

Following this, a new series of rendezvous antennas will be installed onto Prichal to allow approaching spacecraft to automatically guide themselves to the docking port via positioning, range, and rate information.

A TV camera will then be removed and re-installed onto a new location on Prichal. This operation will involve demating and re-mating several cables between Nauka and Prichal.

The camera was previously used to provide video during Prichal’s rendezvous and docking with Nauka; it will now be used to provide video of spacecraft approaching Prichal for docking.

A docking target cross will also be installed onto Prichal during today’s spacewalk to allow future approaching vehicles to properly align with Prichal’s nadir docking port via their onboard TV cameras.

Credit: NASA

After this, Shkaplerov will take time to gather an antenna and two empty containers of trash and then jettison these items overboard to eventually burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.

Disposing of large pieces of equipment overboard of the Station, equipment that is too large to be brought back inside the International Space Station for a destructive return to Earth in an uncrewed resupply craft, is a common practice.

Debris jettisoned from the ISS is large enough to be tracked and monitored to ensure it does not pose a risk to other vehicles in orbit during its passive orbital decay period before reentry.

Following this activity, a now-unneeded floodlight used during Prichal’s rendezvous to provide adequate lighting so the node’s cameras could properly see the docking target will be removed.

After the installation of a second short-cut between handrails, three unneeded rendezvous antennas will then be taken off Prichal. These antennas are no longer required now that Prichal is permanently docked to Nauka.

The three antennas will all then be jettisoned overboard.

This will conclude the EVA’s primary tasks, allowing Dubrov and Shkaplerov to clean up their work areas and translate to the Poisk airlock.

After the spacewalk, Prichal will be ready to support dockings to its nadir port, the first of which is scheduled for March 18 with the docking of Soyuz MS-21.

Russian EVA-51 is part of a series of approximately six spacewalks over 2022 to fully integrate Nauka into the ISS. Additional Russian EVAs — beginning in April — will see the commissioning of Nauka’s European Robotic Arm (ERA), which will include the installation of an external control panel to allow cosmonauts to manually operate the arm.

(Lead image: Prichal, right, after its modified Progress propulsion module departed in December 2021. Credit: Roscosmos/NASA)

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