Spacewalking astronauts upgrade orbiting lab's power grid

By Marcia Dunn, AP Aerospace Writer

The International Space Station's solar power grid got three more top-of-the-line batteries Friday during the second spacewalk in a week.

This still image taken from video provided by NASA shows U.S. astronaut Shane Kimbrough, left and French astronaut Thomas Pesquet during a space walk outside the International Space Station, Friday, Jan. 13, 2017. The astronauts are taking another spacewalk to plug in new and better batteries outside the space station. It's the same type of job conducted last Friday. Pesquet is the first French spacewalker in 15 years. (NASA via AP)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — The International Space Station's solar power grid got three more top-of-the-line batteries Friday during the second spacewalk in a week.

Commander Shane Kimbrough and French crew member Thomas Pesquet plugged in three new lithium-ion batteries, adding to the three hooked up last week.

Just like before, the station's robotic handyman saved the spacewalkers considerable time — and risk — by removing the decade-old nickel-hydrogen batteries and positioning the new ones for wiring. The robot is named Dextre, short for dexterous, with 11-foot-long arms that were operated remotely by flight controllers in Houston.

Kimbrough and Pesquet hustled through the job. Within three hours, the men successfully wrapped up the battery work.

Pesquet, a rookie astronaut, became France's first spacewalker in 15 years. He called it "a big day."

"Better bring our A-game," Pesquet said in a tweet Thursday evening, "to be safe & efficient."

NASA describes the lithium-ion batteries as critical upgrades to the space station's solar power system. Eighteen more need to be installed over the next two to three years, for a total of 24. The next batch will arrive late this year or early next.

The batteries store electrical power generated by the massive solar wings and are used to run equipment when the 250-mile-high lab is on the nighttime side of Earth.

Both the new and old batteries are the same size: about 3 feet long and wide, and 1 ½ feet tall, or about as big as half a refrigerator. But the new lithium-ion batteries can hold more charge and keep it longer, and so only half as many are needed — 24 instead of 48.

Nine of these old batteries will be trashed at the beginning of February, burning up in the atmosphere along with the trash-filled Japanese cargo ship that delivered them last month.

For the Jan. 6 spacewalk, Kimbrough paired up with the other American on board, Peggy Whitson, the world's oldest and most experienced spacewoman. The lab is also home for three Russians.

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