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Spacewalking astronauts prepare station for new solar wings

Rubins and Glover tackled the struts for the first two solar panels, set to launch in June.

NASA astronauts Kate Rubins and Victor Glover concluded their spacewalk on February 28 at 1:16 PM EST, after seven hours and four minutes. In the third spacewalk of the year outside the International Space Station, the two NASA astronauts began work to install modification kits required for upcoming solar array upgrades.

They worked on the station’s portside edge to install a bracket and support struts on two-mast canisters at the base of the outpost’s current solar wings there, but were only able to install one of the kits while assembling a second and storing it for later. 

The duo worked near the farthest set of existing solar arrays on the station’s left (port) side, known as P6. The new arrays will be smaller than the old ones due to advances in solar technology. They will be installed to roll out in front of the six current arrays, allowing the new installations to use the infrastructure already in place for the existing set, according to NASA. Boeing (the prime contractor for space station operations) will provide the arrays, with the help of its subsidiary Spectrolab and a major supplier, Deployable Space Systems.

The spacewalkers’ goal was to install new array support structures to the station’s  4B and 2B using a solar arrays modification kit and several tools, which came in a huge bag about 8 feet (2.5 meters) long, and 1 foot (0.3 m) wide and deep. Rubins and Glover hauled the kit and solar array struts for their work towards the right edge of the station, using a special slingshot device to use crew safety tethers far from the core of the ISS.

This was the third career spacewalk for both Rubins and Glover. Rubins has now spent a total of 19 hours and 50 minutes spacewalking.

Space station crew members have conducted 235 spacewalks in support of the assembly and maintenance of the orbiting laboratory. Spacewalkers have now spent a total of 61 days, 14 hours, and 11 minutes working outside the station.

During the spacewalk on March 5, Rubins and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Soichi Noguchi will venture outside the orbiting outpost to complete the installation of the 4B array modification kit and are expected to tackle additional work, including the venting of ammonia from the Early Ammonia System.