Tim Peake set to spacewalk

Tim Peake is due to become the first British astronaut to perform a spacewalk when he exits the ISS to repair a vital component this month.

Tim Peake during training at NASA's Johnson Space Centre in Houston
Credit: NASA/Bill Stafford

Tim Peake and Tim Kopra are to perform a vital spacewalk outside the International Space Station to repair a vital power unit, ESA has announced.

The mission will make Peake the first British astronaut to spacewalk and is due to begin at 12:55 UT on 15 January. It will last about six hours.

The main purpose of the mission is to replace a failed Solar Shunt Unit, a key component of the solar panels that generate electricity from the Sun’s rays to provide power on board the space station. Peake and Kopra will replace the unit, then lay cables in preparation for new docking ports and reinstall a valve that had previously been removed during the relocation of the Leonardo module last year. The Leonardo module is used for storing cargo, spare parts and food for the astronauts.

The mission has to take place during eclipse to ensure the solar panels are not generating any power. If the spacewalk can not be completed within this time, the crew will have to avoid any exposed electrical connectors and wait for their next opportunity.

NASA astronaut and seasoned space veteran Scott Kelly will remain on board the ISS to help the astronauts in and out of their suits. Putting on the spacesuits and safety equipment will take a few hours, before Peake and Kopra enter the airlock to reduce pressure until it is safe to open the exterior hatch.

The astronauts will prepare for the mission by breathing pure oxygen for two hours to remove nitrogen from their bodies. This is necessary because otherwise they could develop gas bubbles in their body during the spacewalk. This causes pain in the shoulders, elbows, wrists and knees known as ‘the bends’.

The ISS has been operating with just seven of the eight shunt units since November, and this operation will restore the space station to its full capacity.

“I am thrilled at this opportunity for a spacewalk. Right now we are focusing on preparing the tools, equipment and procedures,” says Peake. “Maintaining the International Space Station from the outside requires intense operations - not just from the crew, but also from our ground support teams who are striving to make this spacewalk as safe and efficient as possible.”

The spacewalk will be streamed live via NASA TV.

Front image: NASA astronaut Scott Kelly during a spacewalk on 21 December 2015.
Credit: ESA/NASA
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