Russian cosmonaut pair perform follow-on EVA to outfit robotic arm

by Tyler Gray

Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev and Denis Matveev returned to work outside the International Space Station on Friday as part of an EVA (extravehicular activity, or spacewalk) to continue outfitting the European Robotic Arm (ERA) on the Nauka laboratory module for activation and regular use.

Friday’s spacewalk served as a follow-up to an EVA that Artemyev and Matveev participated in on August 17. Work was stopped prematurely that day after a power issue manifested on Artemyev’s Orlan spacesuit two hours and 17 minutes into the spacewalk.

The primary objectives for the latest spacewalk were to complete unfinished tasks from the August 17 EVA, which included relocating an external control panel for the European Robotic Arm and testing a rigidizing mechanism that will be used to help grapple payloads.

The crew of Russian EVA VKD-54a. (Credit: NASA)

Russian spacewalks that were previously unscheduled or done for contingency purposes are given a suffix (“a”, “b”, etc.) if two or more are performed by the same crew. Thus, Friday’s EVA was given the designation VKD-54a.

VKD-54a was officially the 253rd spacewalk in support of the International Space Station and the eighth so far in 2022. It was also the eighth spacewalk for Artemyev in his cosmonaut career and Matveev’s fourth spacewalk.

Both men wore Russian Orlan-MKS spacesuits for their venture outside the confines of the Station, with Artemyev’s suit bearing red stripes and Matveev’s featuring blue stripes.

The EVA officially started at 13:25 UTC on Friday, September 2, with hatch opening on the Poisk module. Artemyev and Matveev egressed the airlock a few minutes later.

Once outside, the two cosmonauts translated over to the Nauka module, where they installed a payload adapter platform. Next, they started work on relocating the External Man Machine Interface (EMMI) control panel, which allows spacewalkers to manually control the European Robotic Arm whilst on EVAs.

With the EMMI in hand, Artemyev and Matveev translated from the side to the front of Nauka, and subsequently installed the control panel on a handrail and connected it to the BLT3 base point with a cable. A set of soft handrails were also installed.

Artemyev was then instructed to switch the EMMI on and test the controls, which functioned as intended. At this stage of the spacewalk, the cosmonauts were 30 minutes ahead of schedule.

Next, Artemyev and Matveev proceeded to check and set numerous settings on both of the ERA’s end effectors using a rotating torquing tool, checking with ground control in Moscow occasionally to confirm each setting was correct.

The two men then removed a launch restraint ring from End Effector 1, clearing the way for the ERA to be moved. Testing of the robotic arm went as planned, with commands being sent for it to slowly move towards and then grapple the BTL2 base point on Nauka.

In the meantime, Artemyev took a rest break while Matveev went to work on a retainer for the Strela boom – one of a few get-ahead tasks for the crew if they completed the primary objectives early. The cosmonauts were one hour ahead of schedule at this stage of the EVA.

Once movement testing of the ERA was completed, Artemyev was instructed to return to the EMMI for another series of checks, which were completed without issue. More movement testing followed shortly thereafter.

Artemyev then switched the EMMI into storage mode and moved to finish installing a set of soft handrails on the side of the Nauka module.

With the two cosmonauts working well ahead of schedule, mission control decided to proceed with finishing get-ahead tasks ahead of the next EVA. These included the extension of the Strela boom from its base on the forward end of the Zarya module to the Poisk airlock, to create a pathway for translation.

This task was deferred from a previous spacewalk but was somewhat critical as future EVAs would use this pathway to relocate Nauka’s airlock and radiator.

A set of launch restraint rings and a base point cover were set to be jettisoned by the cosmonauts before ingressing the Poisk airlock, but the activity was canceled by mission control due to orbital debris hazard concerns. Instead, the two men were instructed to secure them to the Strela boom via a tether, to be discarded on a later spacewalk.

Contamination and damage checks for the cosmonauts’ Orlan suits followed before Artemyev and Matveev were ordered to reenter the Poisk airlock. Artemyev ingressed the airlock first, with Matveev second.

Hatch closure occurred at 21:12 UTC, marking the end of the EVA. The total duration was clocked in at seven hours and 47 minutes.

VKD-54a, along with VKD-54 on August 17, were just two of several Nauka/ERA activation EVAs that have been performed since the laboratory module arrived at the orbital outpost in July 2021.

A date for the next Russian spacewalk – VKD-55 – has not yet been set.

(Lead photo: Oleg Artenyev (left) and Denis Matveev (right) during VKD-54a. Credit: NASA)

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