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Cosmonauts begin spacewalk to install HD cameras
Posted: January 27, 2014

Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy opened the hatch of the Pirs airlock compartment at 9 a.m. EST (GMT-5) Monday to officially kick off a planned six-hour spacewalk outside the International Space Station. The excursion is the crew's second attempt to install two cameras for a Canadian company that plans to downlink high-definition Earth views to subscribers around the world.

For identification, space station commander Kotov is using the call sign EV-1 and NASA helmet camera No. 18. Ryazanskiy, EV-2, is using helmet camera No. 20. Both men are wearing Russian Orlan spacesuits with blue stripes.

During a marathon spacewalk Dec. 27, Kotov and Ryazanskiy attempted to install a high-resolution 4K "ultra-HD" video camera on the hull of the Zvezda command module, along with a fixed-view medium-resolution still camera.

While both cameras were successfully installed, Russian flight controllers did not receive expected telemetry and after extensive troubleshooting, Kotov and Ryazanskiy were told to bring both cameras back inside the station for additional inspections.

Engineers later discovered the problem with the high-resolution video camera involved an internal wiring problem that was easily corrected. The problem for the medium-resolution still camera was external cabling that was not connected to the proper terminal.

"The configuration that was expected by the crew and by the controllers was not what was actually there," said NASA flight director Tomas Gonzales-Torres, a veteran spacewalk planner. "When they went back and double checked some of the exterior routing, they were actually going to the wrong connector because it was in an incorrect, or unexpected, configuration.

"They'll have to demate a connector and then mate it to the medium resolution camera. They're going to follow the routing of the connector to make sure it's the correct one and then the ground is going to check for proper connectivity and data and confirm that, hopefully, everything is OK."

Scott Larson, UrtheCast CEO, was confident the cameras would work as expected this time around, saying in a statement the cabling issue is "now resolved" and "we expect that the second spacewalk will result in a complete installation."

Assuming the camera installation work goes well, Kotov and Ryazanskiy also plan to retrieve a Russian space exposure experiment and a NASA foot restraint mounting fixture on the station's robot arm that has a loose connector pin.

But getting the two cameras installed is the primary objective of Russian EVA-37A.

Vancouver-based UrtheCast (pronounced Earth Cast) developed the cameras as a commercial venture. The company says anyone with an internet connection will be able to receive pictures of selected targets using cell phones, tablets or personal computers.

"Having a platform on the ISS gives us a really neutral place to let the world observe itself without having a single governmental organization control that data," Dan Lopez, Urthecast director of technology, told before the first spacewalk.

The medium-resolution camera will provide a fixed view of the ground 260 miles below while the high-resolution 4K camera, attached to an aiming mechanism installed during an earlier spacewalk, can be pointed at specific targets. The company plans to provide a free stream of basic imagery while more specific targeting requests will be billed at yet-to-be-specified rates.

"UrtheCast's two cameras will stream unprecedented footage of our evolving Earth to anyone with an internet connection," the company says on its web page. "In near real time, you will be able to visit your favorite locales and learn about current events as they unfold."

The medium-resolution camera can distinguish objects on the ground that are roughly 16 feet across or larger and will capture 25-mile-wide strips of imagery showing the planet below. The high-resolution video camera can distinguish objects as small as 3.3 feet across.

Premium accounts will allow "priority camera tasking and exclusive rights to video and imagery," the company said.

BC Business Online reported last year that Urthecast is promoting a programming interface that "will allow developers to build products of its live-stream, and has signed data distribution agreements worth between $19 and $21 million."

Today's spacewalk is the 178th devoted to station assembly and maintenance since construction began in 1998, the sixth for Kotov and the third for Ryazanskiy. Going into the excursion, 114 astronauts and cosmonauts representing nine nations had logged 1,115 hours and 44 minutes of station EVA time, or 46.5 days.

Following standard safety precautions, astronaut Mike Hopkins will spend the spacewalk restricted to Poisk module and the Soyuz TMA-10M spacecraft that carried him, Kotov and Ryazanskiy into orbit.

Crewmates Koichi Wakata, Rick Mastracchio and Mikhail Tyurin will spend the day in the forward part of station where they will have access to their Soyuz TMA-11M spacecraft. The Pirs airlock compartment and the Zvezda command module it is attached to will be sealed off for the duration of the spacewalk.