Astronauts, robot upgrade ISS batteries


CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida — The International Space Station’s solar power grid got three more top-of-the-line batteries Friday during the second spacewalk in a week.

Commander Shane Kimbrough and French crew member Thomas Pesquet plugged in three new lithium-ion batteries, adding to the three hooked up last week.

Just like before, the station’s robotic handyman saved the spacewalkers considerable time — and risk — by removing the decade-old nickel-hydrogen batteries and positioning the new ones for wiring. The robot is named Dextre, short for dexterous, with 3.4-meter arms that were operated remotely by flight controllers in Houston.

Kimbrough and Pesquet wrapped up the battery work in three hours. They spent nearly three more hours doing odd jobs before floating back inside.

Pesquet, a rookie astronaut, became France’s first spacewalker in 15 years. He later posted what he called the “requisite space selfie” with a reflection of Earth in the helmet.

“Unbelievable feeling to be your own space vehicle,” he said via Twitter.

Said Kimbrough in a tweet: “So amazing to be a part of a huge team that made it all happen.” Crucial Upgrades NASA describes the lithium-ion batteries as critical upgrades to the space station’s solar power system. Eighteen more need to be installed over the next two to three years, for a total of 24. The next batch will arrive late this year or early next.

The batteries store electrical power generated by the massive solar wings and are used to run equipment when the 400-kilometer-high lab is on the nighttime side of Earth.

Both the new and old batteries are the same size: about 0.9 meters long and wide, and half a meter tall, or about as big as half a refrigerator. But the new lithium-ion batteries can hold more charge and keep it longer, and so only half as many are needed — 24 instead of 48.

Nine of these old batteries will be trashed at the beginning of February, burning up in the atmosphere along with the trash-filled Japanese cargo ship that delivered them last month.

For the Jan. 6 spacewalk, Kimbrough paired up with the other American on board, Peggy Whitson, the world’s oldest and most experienced spacewoman. The lab is also home for three Russians.