Russian spacewalkers begin outfitting new lab module

Cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy works outside the International Space Station to electrically connect a new Russian laboratory module to the outpost. This shot was captured by a helmet camera used by crewmate Pyotr Dubrov. Credit: NASA TV

Two Russian spacewalkers connected a new laboratory module to the International Space Station’s power grid Friday, routing and plugging in eight cables to tap into electricity generated by NASA’s solar power system.

Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov ran about an hour behind schedule getting two bundles of cables hooked up between the newly-arrived Nauka lab module and the U.S. segment of the station, prompting Russian flight controllers to defer a few lower-priority tasks.

But the main objective of the spacewalk was accomplished: all eight power cables were successfully connected, along with partial connection of an ethernet cable, tying Nauka into the station’s shared power and internet systems.

“All the connectors were mated correctly,” Russian flight control radioed the spacewalkers after tests confirmed the first set of power cables was working properly.

“Great! Thank you so much for your confirmation,” one of the cosmonauts replied.

The second set of cables also was confirmed to be properly connected and powered.

The excursion began at 10:41 a.m. EDT when Novitskiy and Dubrov opened the outer hatch of the Poisk airlock compartment to kick off the 242nd spacewalk in space station history, the 10th so far this year and the second for the two cosmonauts.

The Nauka module arrived at the station on July 29, docking at the Earth-facing port of the Russian Zvezda module at the back end of the space station. Unexpected thruster firings after the linkup briefly knocked the station out of its normal orientation, but the problem was corrected without any damage to the complex.

The U.S. and Russian segments of the station share the same computer network and solar power system and the first of up to 11 Russian spacewalks to outfit the new lab module was devoted to plugging Nauka into the existing power system.

The work required close cooperation between NASA and Russian flight controllers to make sure power was shut down across various circuits while the cosmonauts were making the required connections. While the work took longer than expected, there were no major problems.

But installation of three space exposure experiments, attachment of two spacewalk handrails on Nauka and the jettisoning of a no-longer-needed ethernet cable reel were deferred to a future spacewalk. Novitskiy and Dubrov returned to the Poisk airlock and closed the hatch at 6:35 p.m., officially bringing the 7-hour 54-minute spacewalk to a close.

The cosmonauts plan to venture back outside next Thursday to carry out the second in the series of Nauka outfitting spacewalks, including at least some of the tasks that were deferred during Friday’s outing.

Then, if all goes well, Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet plan a spacewalk of their own three days later to make preparations for installation of a second set of new solar arrays in a long-planned power system upgrade.