French and American astronauts have completed a six-hour spacewalk as they installed new solar panels to boost power supplies to the International Space Station (ISS), Nasa said.
“It is a huge team effort each time and couldn’t be happier to return with @astro_kimbrough,” Frenchman Thomas Pesquet tweeted on Sunday, referring to his American colleague Shane Kimbrough. Pesquet is with the European Space Agency, Kimbrough with Nasa.
The two men, who arrived on the space station in late April, activated the internal batteries in their space suits at 11.42 GMT, then opened the hatch to the ISS airlock.
They then continued the work of positioning, attaching and deploying six new-generation solar panels, referred to as iROSA, for Roll-Out Solar Array.
The solar wing unrolled like a red carpet once the final set of bolts was released, relying solely on pent-up energy. The slow but steady extension took 10 minutes, with station cameras providing live TV views. “It is beautiful,” Pesquet called out.
“Well done, both of you,” Mission Control replied once the operation was complete. “That was great to see.”
As the six and a half hour spacewalk concluded, Kimbrough, who has three children, wished “Happy Father’s Day” to all the flight controller dads. “Thanks for working with us on a Sunday.”
The new solar wing – with five more to come – will give the ageing station a much needed electrical boost, as demand for experiments and space tourists grows.
The 19-metre (60 foot) panels were delivered to the station early this month by an uncrewed SpaceX flight. The astronauts are slated to complete the installation of a second solar panel array on Friday.
The panels will power both daily operations and the research and science projects carried out on the ISS and are expected to have a 15-year lifespan.
A first spacewalk on Wednesday ran into several snags, notably problems with Kimbrough’s spacesuit. He temporarily lost data on his spacesuit display unit, and then suffered a brief spike in the suit’s pressure reading.
Sunday’s outing was the fourth time the two astronauts had ventured into space together. In addition to Wednesday’s spacewalk, they did so twice on a 2017 mission, attached by tethers to the space station as it orbits the Earth at an altitude of about 400 kilometres (250 miles).
In all, there have been 240 ISS spacewalks as astronauts carry out the work of assembling and maintaining, as well as upgrading, the station.
Agence France-Presse and Associated Press contributed to this report