Nov. 15 (UPI) — NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan and European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano switched their spacesuits to battery power at 6:39 a.m. ET on Friday morning, starting the clock on the first in a series of challenging spacewalks.
Shortly after exiting the International Space Station, Morgan and Parmitano began work to repair the cosmic particle detector. Their efforts are being shown live on NASA TV.
“These spacewalks are considered the most complex of their kind since the Hubble Space Telescope servicing missions, which took place between 1993 and 2009,” NASA reported last week.
Roughly an hour into the spacewalk, Parmitano began installing a handrail that will aid the astronauts as they conduct their repair work. Today’s tasks, including the handrail installation, are mostly preliminary. Morgan will position tools for the repairs, and the duo will work to remove the heat shield that protects cosmic particle detector.
On Thursday, in anticipation of the spacewalk, Morgan and Parmitano readied the Quest airlock, the module where astronauts keep their spacesuits and enter and exit the space station for spacewalk missions.
Afterward, the duo reviewed the procedures for Friday’s mission with flight engineers Jessica Meir and Christina Koch.
The cosmic particle detector that Morgan and Parmitano will be working on, officially named the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, is an experimental device designed to detect antimatter in cosmic rays. Data collected by the AMS could help scientists determine the mysterious makeup of dark matter, which accounts for most of the mass in the universe.
When engineers designed the device, they didn’t conceive of in-service repairs. But the technology’s cooling component is broken and needs to be replaced for the experiment to continue.
“When we first started this, we weren’t really sure if we were going to be able to complete the repairs successfully,” Tara Jochim, AMS spacewalk repair project manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, said during a recent press briefing. “Usually when you go out for a spacewalk, you’re working on a piece of hardware that was prepared for, on the ground, for a spacewalk.”
The AMS was originally designed for a three-year mission, but the device has continued past its end date, and engineers want to prolong it further.
“More than 20 unique tools were designed for the intricate repair work, which will include the cutting and splicing of eight cooling tubes to be connected to the new system and reconnection of a myriad of power and data cables,” according to NASA. “Astronauts have never cut and reconnected fluid lines during a spacewalk.”
If the repair missions are successful, the AMS will be able to continue collecting data through 2030.