Featured Image Source: SpaceX
NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley launched to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft on May 30. Their voyage was the first one launched from American soil in nearly a decade. SpaceX returned human spaceflight capabilities to the United States. The astronaut duo joined Astronaut Chris Cassidy at the ISS orbiting laboratory. They are actively performing science experiments and conducted two spacewalks this week to upgrade the space station’s power system. Astronauts Behnken and Cassidy performed the set of spacewalks, and Astronaut Hurley helped them suit up and monitored the extravehicular tasks.
During their first spacewalk on June 25, the astronauts completed changing five out of six old nickel-hydrogen batteries with new lithium-ion batteries on a structure outside the ISS called 'Starboard-6'. These batteries are used to store solar energy from the station’s solar arrays. Their second spacewalk took place on July 1st, they removed a final nickel-hydrogen battery and installed one more lithium-ion battery and one more adapter plate. “They successfully moved and connected one new, powerful lithium-ion battery and its adapter place to complete the circuit to the new battery and relocated one aging nickel-hydrogen battery to an external platform for future disposal,” NASA wrote in a press release.
After their spacewalks, the agency held a press conference in which Behnken and Cassidy shared they enjoyed a ‘wonderful view’ of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft during their spacewalks. Dragon is docked to the space station’s Harmony module. Astronaut Cassidy captured a photograph of the spacecraft, pictured below. “Chris and I had a great event last Friday and a wonderful view of Dragon,” Behnken said, “It was just awesome to be able to look back and snap a picture and I think we got a good daylight shot that kind of showed HTV and Dragon all out there on the front of space station.” He added -“It was pretty awesome.”
Crew Dragon features solar arrays on its base trunk, which are actively charging the vehicle to power its systems. NASA officials have shared on multiple occasions Dragon is exceeding their expectations. During a press conference, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program Manager Steve Stitch told reporters –“Kind of hard to believe Endeavour's been docked now for three and a half weeks. The vehicle's doing extremely well as we put it through its paces.”
“We're learning a lot about the vehicle, nothing that's of any concern.” Stich also mentioned the teams at SpaceX’s mission control and astronauts at the space station have been “learning how to manage the systems, heaters, and thermal performance as we go through the changes in the orbit” while Dragon is docked. Stitch shared they are surprised that Dragon’s solar arrays are generating more power than expected. Initially, the company designed the spacecraft to withstand a couple of months in orbit, and said the crafts solar arrays could deteriorate if it remains docked longer. Stitch said that according to the data, Dragon could withstand in orbit for up to 114 more days more than its initial return target. “Right now, what we're seeing is they're really degrading a little bit better than predicted and so that's what gives us the capability to stay on orbit for up to 119 days, 114 days or so docked,” Stich said.
Deputy ISS Program Manager Kenneth Todd said that if all continues to go smoothly, NASA and SpaceX will return Behnken and Hurley home aboard Dragon on August 2. Before their return, the astronauts will conduct a Crew Dragon habitability test on July 4, four of the five astronauts currently working at the orbiting laboratory will sleep and live inside Dragon for 24-hours. The crew will also run through emergency procedures to assess how well the spacecraft is suited and what (possible) improvements should be made for future crews. “One of the things we want to make sure of is how comfortable is the vehicle with all 4 crew members in. How able are you to do all the tasks you need to do with all 4 crew members in it and we're getting ready to do that demonstration,” NASA’s Associate Administrator for Human Spaceflight Exploration and Operations Kathy Lueders said. SpaceX's next mission, Crew-1, will deploy four astronauts aboard Crew Dragon later this year.