NASA Needs to Change the Batteries on the Space Station

And it's sending three astronauts on a spacewalk to do the job.
December 29, 2016, 1:00pm
Image: NASA

In the early morning hours of Jan. 6, 2017 and Jan. 13 — at least, morning for us here on the East Coast, USA, planet Earth — three of the International Space Station's Expedition 50 astronauts will venture out into space to change the batteries of their orbital home-away-from-home.

They'll work to install adapter plates and hook up electrical connections for six shiny new lithium-ion batteries, replacing 12 older nickel-hydrogen power bricks.

The batteries travelled to the ISS from Japan in mid-December, following a very pretty night launch aboard the Kounotori 6 freighter. The space station's robotic arm grabbed the cargo, containing four-and-a-half tons of supplies, including the batteries.

Commander Shane Kimbrough and Flight Engineer Peggy Whitson of NASA will take on the first of the two walks, according to NASA, with Kimbrough returning for the second, joined by ESA's Flight Engineer Thomas Pesquet — who's taking his first spacewalk — to finish the job one week later.

From left: Thomas Pesquet, European Space Agency; Peggy Whitson, NASA; Shane Kimbrough, NASA; in a selfie taken in the ISS Cupola. Image: NASA

They'll be assisted by Dextre, a "robotic handyman" that's helped maintain the ISS since 2008. Dextre's job begins on New Year's Eve, in preparation for the walks.

The new batteries are made to last at least 10 years, as Spaceflight Now notes: Longer than the ISS is planned to stay operational. They'll improve power system on the space station, Kimbrough told Spaceflight Now. Although the ISS uses solar arrays to gather energy from the sun, batteries store it for when the station is eclipsed by the Earth and out of direct sunlight, during 35 minutes of every 90 minute orbit.

NASA TV will live-stream the spacewalks beginning at 5:30 a.m. on the 6th and 13th. Tune in here.

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