NASA operators at the Johnson Space Center will have to skip the New Year's holiday weekend as they need to make a necessary power upgrade on the International Space Station (ISS).
The ISS will receive six state-of-the-art lithium-ion battery packs to replace the older ones being used for its solar power system. These will be installed through a complex procedure that will last for the next two weeks.
ISS Battery Replacement
The first part of the battery replacement will be carried out by robot arm operators at the space center beginning on Dec. 31. They will use the remote controlled arm of the ISS to remove three of the aging batteries and install the lithium-ion power packs.
The maneuver is considered the most complex one ever to be done using the space station's robotic arm. It can be compared to playing a shell game, where operators will have to swap out the old and new battery packs by shifting them between their cargo pallets, temporary mounting fixtures, and the ISS's solar array electronics unit.
Once the robot arm operations are finished, Expedition 50 Commander Shane Kimbrough will team up with NASA Flight Engineer Peggy Whitson on a spacewalk to continue the installation of the batteries from outside the ISS on Jan. 6.
The next part will then be carried out by Kimbrough and Flight Engineer Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency. They will go on a second spacewalk on Jan. 13.
The final stages of the ISS battery replacement will be conducted Jan. 14 and Jan. 15 using the space station's robot arm.
Since it was launched in 1998, the International Space Station has been operating using four large sets of solar arrays that power its electrical buses. Each set comes with 12 nickel-hydrogen battery packs that provide electricity to the ISS, especially when it is in the Earth's shadow.
However, the nickel-hydrogen batteries are already beginning to lose their strength, making it necessary to have them replaced.
For the next few years, the ISS will receive 24 lithium-ion batteries as replacement for the aging nickel-hydrogen packs. This will help make sure that the space station will have enough power for the remainder of its life.
ISS fans who would like to witness the battery replacement using the space station's robotic arm can tune in to NASA TV's broadcast the event.
The Jan. 6 and Jan. 13 spacewalks also mark the 196th and 197th maneuvers ever to be done on the ISS.