NASA has delayed a spacewalk scheduled today from the International Space Station amid concerns about debris.
The spacewalk by NASA astronauts Thomas Marshburn and Kayla Barron was due to have started today with a switch to spacesuit battery power at 12:10 UTC followed by an exit from the outpost’s Quest airlock.
The planned 6.5-hour spacewalk was to have Marshburn positioned at the end of the Canadarm2 robotic arm and swung out over the structure by ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer at the controls within the orbiting lab. Barron was to assist with the replacement of an antenna on the P1 truss.
The antenna recently lost the ability to send signals to Earth via NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellite systems. Not the end of the world, as the ISS is rammed full of redundancy, including in the comms department, but since a spare is available (on the truss structure) managers figured restoring full redundancy was worth a jaunt outside the airlock.
Unless, of course, there is a debris notification.
The problem is the short notice of the impending debris event. The notification was only received on the evening of 29 November, less than 24 hours before Marshburn and Barron were due to venture outside, and managers sensibly opted to postpone activities until NASA was able to properly assess the risk to the spacewalkers.
NASA did not immediately respond to a question from The Register concerning the source of the debris, but the space above Earth has become increasingly crowded of late. A few short weeks ago, Russia’s military demonstrated its might (but not much sense) with the destruction of one of its own satellites by an anti-satellite missile.
The resulting cloud of debris sent the ISS crew scurrying for shelter while spaceflight bosses expressed their outrage from the safety of the ground. We imagine that there were some interesting chats aboard the ISS over dinner. ®