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Astronauts Install New, Stronger Batteries for Station’s Solar Power Grid

The space station's outdated nickel-hydrogen batteries are being replaced with lithium-ion batteries, a lengthy process spanning years

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Astronauts Nick Hague and Christina Koch float outside the International Space Station, March 29, 2019, a week after the first spacewalk to install new and stronger batteries for the station’s solar power grid. VOA

Spacewalking astronauts hustled through battery hookups outside the International Space Station on Friday in a major upgrade of the solar power grid.

NASA’s Christina Koch and Nick Hague successfully installed a set of new and stronger batteries, continuing replacement work that began a week ago.

It wasn’t the team NASA envisioned. Koch was supposed to go out with astronaut Anne McClain for the first all-female spacewalk. But the lineup was changed because there weren’t two medium suits readily available for the women. After NASA took heat for the switch, McClain explained that the decision was based on her recommendation.

“Safety of the crew and execution of the mission come first,” McClain, an Army aviator, said via Twitter this week.

astronauts, station batteries
NASA’s Christina Koch and Nick Hague successfully installed a set of new and stronger batteries, continuing replacement work that began a week ago. Pixabay

Koch – the 14th woman to conduct a spacewalk – arrived at the space station two weeks ago along with Hague. McClain, who last week became the 13th female spacewalker, has been on board since December. More than 200 men have walked in space.

The space station’s outdated nickel-hydrogen batteries are being replaced with lithium-ion batteries, a lengthy process spanning years. These batteries store power collected by the solar wings and keep the outpost running when it’s on the night side of Earth. The big robot arm at the space station took care of the heavy lifting in advance, removing the old batteries and placing the new ones in the empty slots earlier this week.

Besides attaching three fresh batteries, Koch and Hague disconnected one of the three installed last week because of higher voltage than expected. It will be replaced by two old-style batteries until a spare arrives. Running ahead the whole time, the astronauts even squeezed in some extra chores before their 6 {-hour spacewalk ended.

“Everybody’s very impressed by how much we achieved today,” Mission Control radioed. “You guys rock.”

astronauts, station batteries
Running ahead the whole time, the astronauts even squeezed in some extra chores before their 6 {-hour spacewalk ended. VOA

McClain pulled out of Friday’s spacewalk when she realized that the medium suit she used last week fit her best; she was supposed to switch to a large. Koch also takes a medium. While another medium spacesuit top is available, it would have taken 12 hours to get it ready – time NASA did not want to spend given all the other station activity.

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“It’s safer & faster to change spacewalker assignments than reconfigure spacesuits,” NASA explained via Twitter. All first-time space fliers, McClain, Koch and Hague are members of NASA’s Astronaut Class of 2013, the first to include equal numbers of women and men.

A third spacewalk is planned for April 8; McClain will go out with Canadian David Saint-Jacques. The 250-mile-high station is also home to two Russians. (VOA)

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NASA Telescope Captures Record-Breaking Thermonuclear X-Ray Flash: ’Burst was Outstanding’

The observations reveal many phenomena that have never been seen together in a single burst

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The X-ray burst, the brightest seen by NICER so far, came from an object named "J1808". Wikimedia Commons

NASA has detected a massive thermonuclear explosion coming from outer space, caused by a massive thermonuclear flash on the surface of a pulsar — the crushed remains of a star that long ago exploded as a supernova.

The explosion released as much energy in 20 seconds as the Sun does in nearly 10 days.

NASA’s Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) telescope on the International Space Station (ISS) detected a sudden spike of X-rays on August 20, reports the US space agency.

The X-ray burst, the brightest seen by NICER so far, came from an object named “J1808”.

NASA, Telescope, Thermonuclear
The explosion released as much energy in 20 seconds as the Sun does in nearly 10 days. Pixabay

The observations reveal many phenomena that have never been seen together in a single burst.

In addition, the subsiding fireball briefly brightened again for reasons astronomers cannot yet explain.

“This burst was outstanding. We see a two-step change in brightness, which we think is caused by the ejection of separate layers from the pulsar surface, and other features that will help us decode the physics of these powerful events,” said lead researcher Peter Bult, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

The detail NICER captured on this record-setting eruption will help astronomers fine-tune their understanding of the physical processes driving the thermonuclear flare-ups of it and other bursting pulsars.

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“J1808” is located about 11,000 light-years away in the constellation Sagittarius.

It spins at a dizzying 401 rotations each second, and is one member of a binary system. Its companion is a brown dwarf, an object larger than a giant planet yet too small to be a star. A steady stream of hydrogen gas flows from the companion toward the neutron star, and it accumulates in a vast storage structure called an accretion disk.

Astronomers employ a concept called the “Eddington limit”, named after English astrophysicist Sir Arthur Eddington, to describe the maximum radiation intensity a star can have before that radiation causes the star to expand.

This point depends strongly on the composition of the material lying above the emission source.

NASA, Telescope, Thermonuclear
NASA’s Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) telescope on the International Space Station (ISS) detected a sudden spike of X-rays on August 20, reports the US space agency. Pixabay

“Our study exploits this longstanding concept in a new way,” said co-author Deepto Chakrabarty, a professor of physics at MIT.

“We are apparently seeing the Eddington limit for two different compositions in the same X-ray burst. This is a very powerful and direct way of following the nuclear burning reactions that underlie the event.”

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A paper describing the findings has been published by The Astrophysical Journal Letters. (IANS)