ISS Cosmonauts Install Bird-Tracking Antenna, Deploy Tiny Satellites During 8-Hour Spacewalk

Cosmauts spacewalk
NASA via AP Images

This week was full of excitement for the astronaut crew living and working on board the International Space Station (ISS) some 250 miles (400 kilometers) above Earth.

Two of the crew members, Sergey Prokopyev and Oleg Artemyev of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, performed a marathon-spacewalk that lasted for nearly eight hours, completing a series of tasks in the name of science, reports Space.com.

The two headed outside the space station on August 15 to release four tiny satellites into space and install the antenna for a German-Russian bird-tracking experiment dubbed ICARUS (International Cooperation for Animal Research Using Space), notes Phys.org.

“Cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev and Sergey Prokopyev completed a spacewalk Wednesday to deploy nano-satellites, install and retrieve science experiments,” the ISS’ Twitter account announced yesterday with the hashtag #ICYMI (In Case You Missed It).

Unexpected Delays

The duo opened the Pirs hatch of the Russian Zvezda module at 12:17 p.m. EDT, with a 20-minute delay from the initial schedule, and spent 7 hours and 46 minutes working on their tasks — 1.5 hours longer than originally planned.

Their first assignment was the deployment of two Tanusha nano-satellites, designed to measure the density of space and study spacecraft in orbit, and two SiriusSat space weather detectors. The tiny satellites were manually flung into space by Prokopyev over a period of 14 minutes.

Then, the two cosmonauts installed the ICARUS antenna on top of the Zvezda module, a task which proved to be more complicated and time-consuming than initially expected.

According to Sputnik News, the astronauts struggled with the antenna’s long electrical cables, which they had to unfurl and connect so that the system could receive power.

“The delay was primarily due to the cable-laying,” said Aleksandr Kaleri, a veteran cosmonaut and an executive at the Russian rocket-making company Energia. “There’re already plenty of cables outside.”

At one point, Artemyev had a hard time with a twisted cable and eventually pulled out a sharp knife to deal with the situation.

“Can you give us some more difficult tasks please?” the cosmonaut joked five hours into the spacewalk.

Once this part of the job was done, the two astronauts moved on to the last order of business — collecting four boxes of microbe samples from the ISS hull. These samples are part of an experiment aiming to measure cosmic impacts to the space station and which previously revealed that exposure made some of the microbes more viral and resilient.

Unfortunately, the delays caused Artemyev and Prokopyev to run out of time and the cosmonauts ended up retrieving only two of the sample boxes. The remaining samples are to be collected during a future spacewalk.

What Is The ICARUS Experiment?

The joint German-Russian endeavor aims to study animal behavior by tracking the migration of birds and small mammals and looking into their life duration and the spread of diseases.

The ICARUS antenna mounted by Artemyev and Prokopyev on top of the ISS will be monitoring the GPS signals from a series of bird and animal tags, feeding the data to a central computer on board the Zvezda module, explains Sputnik News, citing the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany.

At first, ICARUS will be tracking blackbirds and turtle doves that have already been outfitted with small GPS tags; then, the team will move on to other songbirds, fruit bats, and bigger wildlife, notes Phys.org.

The project also includes leg-band tags for larger birds, such as storks, and ear tags for big mammals, such as gazelles, jaguars, camels, and elephants, said Martin Wikelski, ICARUS director at the Max Planck Institute.

While this type of antenna is usually installed on a satellite, the team opted to perch the ICARUS on top of the ISS for easy maintenance by space station astronauts.

Up Next, Two Spacewalks In September

This was the very first spacewalk in Prokopyev’s career and the third one for Artemyev, who has now spent a total of 20 hours and 20 minutes in the vacuum of space. As the Inquisitr previously reported, Prokopyev arrived at the space station on June 8, together with German astronaut Alexander Gerst and NASA’s Serena Auñón-Chancellor.

Wednesday’s outing was also the seventh spacewalk conducted since the beginning of 2018, three of which were performed by U.S. astronauts Andrew Feustel and Ricky Arnold in March, May, and June, notes NASA.

The longest spacewalk of the year, with a duration of 8 hours and 13 minutes, was conducted by cosmonauts Alexander Misurkin and Anton Shkaplerov on February 2 and broke the Russian spacewalk record, the Inquisitr reported at the time.

Overall, astronauts have performed a total of 212 spacewalks since the ISS became operational 20 years ago, with two more spacewalks scheduled for next month. According to Space.com, the next spacewalks are slated for September 20 and 26 and will be performed by Feustel, Arnold, and Gerst.

“Those excursions will focus on space-station maintenance work, including replacing batteries and power channels,” notes the media outlet.