Watch live: Second all-female spacewalk devoted to space station battery replacements

By William Harwood

/ CBS News


After an exceptionally busy few months in space, astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir are making history's second all-female spacewalk Wednesday. They're restarting interrupted work to replace a set of aging solar array batteries in the International Space Station's power system.

Floating in the station's Quest airlock, the astronauts planned to switch their spacesuits to battery power around 6:50 a.m. ET, officially kicking off the 225th excursion devoted to station assembly and maintenance. It will be Meir's second spacewalk and the fifth for Koch, who is wrapping up a record 328-day stay in space.

How to watch the spacewalk

  • What: Spacewalk by NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir
  • Date: Wednesday, January 15, 2020
  • Time: NASA live coverage begins at 5:30 a.m. ET; Spacewalk begins at 6:50 a.m. ET
  • Location: International Space Station
  • Online stream: Watch in the player above and on your mobile or streaming device

For identification, Meir, call sign EV-1, was assigned a suit with red stripes around the legs and helmet camera No. 18. Koch, EV-2, was assigned an unmarked suit and will be using helmet camera No. 11.

Astronauts Jessica Meir, left, and Christina Koch work in the Destiny laboratory module at one of the International Space Station's two robot arm control stations. The astronauts carried out the first all-female spacewalk last October. NASA

NASA is in the process of replacing all 48 of the space station's older-generation nickel-hydrogen batteries with 24 more powerful lithium-ion units, along with circuit-completing "adapter plates" to fill in for batteries that were removed but not replaced.

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The new batteries are arranged in sets of six in integrated electronics assemblies, or IEAs, at the bases of the station's four main solar array wings. Each wing is made up of two extendable blankets of solar cells and the electricity they generate is delivered throughout the station using eight electrical buses, or channels, two per IEA.

In 2017, spacewalkers replaced the 12 right-side inboard solar array batteries with six lithium-ion units. In March 2018, the 12 left-side inboard batteries were replaced by another six LiOH batteries. NASA currently is working to replace the 12 left-side outboard batteries. The final set of lithium-ion batteries will be installed in the right-side outboard IEA later this year.

Koch and astronaut Drew Morgan installed three of the left outboard array's six lithium-ion batteries and adapter plates last October 6 and 11. But shortly thereafter, engineers discovered one of the three battery charge-discharge units in that circuit had failed after 19 years of service, sidelining one of the new batteries.

Koch and Meir staged the first all-female spacewalk last October 18, removing the failed BCDU and installing a replacement. The faulty unit was returned to Earth earlier this month aboard a SpaceX Cygnus cargo capsule. The device will be refurbished and re-launched on a future resupply mission.

NASA's first all-female spacewalk goes off without a hitch

In the meantime, with the BCDU swap-out complete, NASA managers opted to press ahead with three higher-priority spacewalks by Morgan and Luca Parmitano in November and December to repair the cooling system in a $2 billion cosmic ray detector mounted on the solar power truss. A fourth spacewalk is planned later this month to verify the repairs and to re-install insulation.

Koch and Meir were assigned to complete the left-side outboard battery replacements during another two spacewalks, the first Wednesday and the second next Monday. During Wednesday's excursion the astronauts plan to remove three nickel-hydrogen batteries, install two new lithium-ion units and one adapter plate.

If all goes well, Koch and Meir will finish the job Monday, removing three more old batteries and installing the final lithium-ion power pack.

First published on January 15, 2020 / 12:22 AM

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Bill Harwood has been covering the U.S. space program full-time since 1984, first as Cape Canaveral bureau chief for United Press International and now as a consultant for CBS News. He covered 129 space shuttle missions, every interplanetary flight since Voyager 2's flyby of Neptune and scores of commercial and military launches. Based at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Harwood is a devoted amateur astronomer and co-author of "Comm Check: The Final Flight of Shuttle Columbia."