Science

Epic spacewalk, epic FAIL: Cosmonauts point new antenna in the wrong direction

They had one job during the record eight-hour EVA ...

By Richard Chirgwin

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A record-breaking spacewalk conducted over the weekend ended with an antenna pointed in the wrong direction on the International Space Station (ISS).

The walk by Roscosmos' Alexander Misurkin (commander of Expedition 54) and flight engineer Anton Shkaplerov was scheduled to last 6.5 hours, but blew out to a Russian record of eight hours, 13 minutes.

Misurkin and Shkaplerov were detailed, among other tasks, to replace the electronics attached to a high-gain antenna that communicates with Russian mission controllers.

The replacement high-frequency wideband receiver will give the Russian segment of the ISS telemetry and data transmission performance similar to NASA's communications.

The antenna was folded while the cosmonauts worked on the electronics upgrade, and the trouble came when they were worked to redeploy the antenna.

NASA's blog post summarising the space walk says “the antenna system appears to be working normally”, but doesn't mention that when the cosmonauts unfolded the antenna, it ended up 180° in the wrong direction.

NASA TV voice Rob Navias said in spite of the antenna's orientation, it was “operating and in good shape”. Roscosmos is investigating whether another walk is needed to adjust the antenna.

As Space.com reports, the Russian communication system has a history of drama.

The antenna and associated electronics were originally launched in 2000, and were designed to communicate with the then-planned "Luch" network of satellites designed to beam video from the ISS to the world.

A decade passed before the new satellites were launched, and by that time, the 1990s-era electronics was obsolete and incompatible, leading to last week's spacewalk.

As you can see from about the 5:50-minute mark in the video below, rather than hauling the old electronics unit back into the ISS, the cosmonauts gave it a shove in the direction of Earth, in the expectation it will burn up in the planet's atmosphere. ®

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