ISS Repair Space Walk: A Glimpse Into the Station's Future

NASA is changing the way it handles hardware problems

4 min read

6 August 2010—The dramatic emergency-repair space walks assigned to astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) signify much more than the repair itself. The astronauts are the first to employ an entirely new mode of spacecraft maintenance. Previous approaches to keeping the 380-metric-ton orbital outpost functional are being retired, along with the United States’ space shuttle fleet. Astronauts should expect this new emergency-repair scenario for the remainder of the station’s lifetime, which could be decades.

From now on, urgent repairs will be performed entirely by broadly trained space-station crews, not by specialized teams on brief shuttle visits as was previously done. These crews will use stocks of spare parts left inside and outside the station by the final visiting shuttles. These resources are being sent up based on a careful analysis of the ”mean time between failure” (MTBF) of the spacecraft’s components, which are designed to last for years in space.

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Two men fix metal rods to a gold-foiled satellite component in a warehouse/clean room environment

Technicians at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems facilities in Redondo Beach, Calif., work on a mockup of the JWST spacecraft bus—home of the observatory’s power, flight, data, and communications systems.

NASA

For a deep dive into the engineering behind the James Webb Space Telescope, see our collection of posts here.

When the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) reveals its first images on 12 July, they will be the by-product of carefully crafted mirrors and scientific instruments. But all of its data-collecting prowess would be moot without the spacecraft’s communications subsystem.

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