NASA delays astronaut spacewalk indefinitely as it receives notification of potentially dangerous debris

The aim of the spacewalk, which would have led to two astronauts venturing out of the ISS, was to replace a faulty antenna system.

The spacewalk was set to be undertaken by Thomas Marshburn and Kayla Barron, both NASA astronauts. (Representational image: NASA)

NASA spacewalk: Debates around space junk are heating up in light of a study on orbital debris and the fact that the International Space Station had to manoeuvre out of the way of a defunct Chinese satellite. And now, a new development has taken place. US space agency NASA on Tuesday said that it had received a “debris notification” for the ISS, but it was not able to properly assess the risk that this debris posed for the astronauts. Therefore, the spacewalk earlier scheduled to take place on Tuesday itself was delayed by the team, and it will not take place until the space agency has more information on the matter.

Also read | China’s satellite almost crashed into International Space Station! Now scientists are sweating over space junk

NASA, however, also assured that the schedule and operations of the International Space Station were in a position to easily accommodate the delay.

The aim of the spacewalk, which would have led to two astronauts venturing out of the ISS, was to replace a faulty antenna system. This replacement drive has been postponed for the time being by the space agency, but it has also said that such a delay would not impact the operations of the space station.

The spacewalk was set to be undertaken by Thomas Marshburn and Kayla Barron, both NASA astronauts. They were scheduled to exit the Quest airlock and replace the SASA or the S-band Antenna Subassembly. The spare part for this is already available on the truss structure of the ISS, NASA said. S-band of radio frequencies is used by the space station to transmit low-rate voice and data with ground flight controllers.

It was expected that the spacewalk would run for six and half hours, and it was decided after the antenna recently stopped sending signals to Earth. This degradation, however, has not impacted the operations of the space station in a significant manner, and the replacement is only being undertaken “to ensure communications redundancy”, NASA said, which explains why the delay will not be a major problem.

It is not yet clear whether NASA was referring to space junk when it said debris notification, but considering the fact that the space agency’s officials had earlier flagged the, albeit slightly, heightened risk posed by the debris left over from a Russian anti-satellite missile test weeks ago, it can be reasonably assumed that the notification was with regard to space junk rather than natural cosmic debris.

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