Astronauts Begin Complex Spacewalks to Repair Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer

Astronauts Begin Complex Spacewalks to Repair Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer

Experts at NASA assured that the new pieces of space junk are not a threat to the orbiting lab. The more massive shield is expected to remain in orbit for a year before re-entering the atmosphere and burning up, while the smaller shield is expected to do the same in a few weeks

Fremont, CA: Astronauts at the International Space Station launched a series of complicated spacewalks in order to fix the cosmic ray detector at the facility. Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano, armed with dozens of dissecting tools, successfully removed two protective covers to gain access to the inside of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, and handed them to his U.S. spacewalking partner Andrew Morgan, for tossing overboard. The four-foot-long primary shield was ditched over the Pacific, while the smaller one over the South Atlantic. Experts at NASA assured that the new pieces of space junk are not a threat to the orbiting lab. The more massive shield is expected to remain in orbit for a year before re-entering the atmosphere and burning up, while the smaller shield is expected to do the same in a few weeks.

NASA believes these spacewalks are the most challenging since the Hubble Space Telescope Repairs a few decades. However, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer was never built with thinking it would have to undergo space surgery. After eight and a half years of space life, the coolant system in the spectrometer has run its course. Astronauts Parmitano and Morgan are expected to make at least four spacewalks this month and the next to revitalize the instrument. Delivered to the International Space Station in 2011 by Endeavour, the USD 2 billion worth spectrometer is used for collecting antimatter and dark matter. The instrument has already studied over 148 billion charged cosmic rays, more than what was collected in over a century by high-altitude balloons and small satellites.

The 16 feet by 13 feet by 10 feet spectrometer, weighing seven and a half tons, was designed to operate for three years. With the addition of four new coolants, it is expected to survive the entire course of the International Space Station or the next five to ten years. The replacement pumps arrived at the facility two weeks ago, along with a range of new tools. Lead spacewalker Parmitano and Morgan had trained extensively for the plumbing job before rocketing into orbit in July. Their training proved useful as they were able to cruise through the cover removal stage in the first spacewalk and even got a jump on their future chores. The next phase of the spacewalk will involve slicing through stainless steel tubes and splicing in connections for the new pumps, which will use liquid carbon dioxide as coolant.

NASA recognizes that this mission is more dangerous than the Hubble Space Telescope repairs, as the risks involved are far more higher. On his first spaceflight, astronaut Morgan is an emergency physician in the Army, which is a bonus for this kind of intricate work. Astronaut Parmitano is making his second visit to the International Space Station, after surviving a close call in 2013. He had almost drowned when his helmet began filling up with water from the cooling system from his suit. His calm nature helped him to overcome the situation in a very quiet and composed manner.  

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