Debris risk to astronauts pushes back planned spacewalk and ISS antenna repair to Thursday

A pair of astronauts planned to conduct a spacewalk outside of the International Space Station on Tuesday, but NASA delayed the plan to repair a faulty antenna system. The scheduled spacewalk was pushed back due to the risk of debris endangering astronauts Thomas Marshburn and Kayla Barron.

“NASA received a debris notification for the space station,” the space agency announced shortly after midnight on Tuesday. “Due to the lack of opportunity to properly assess the risk it could pose to the astronauts, teams have decided to delay the Nov. 30 spacewalk until more information is available.”

NASA notified its astronauts about the delay via email, the New York Times reports:

“Sorry for the news,” a NASA official in Houston replied to Mr. Vande Hei over the ground-to-space channel. “We’re probably almost as disappointed as the crew members today, but I know it’s a little bit harder for you guys waking up to this news.”

“It’s just real life, this is how things work out sometimes, and I’m really glad people are looking out for our safety,” Mr. Vande Hei said.

The space agency now plans to conduct the spacewalk outside of the ISS with a 48 hour delay:

“After receiving additional information about a late notification debris event on Monday, NASA determined the orbit of the debris does not pose a risk to a scheduled spacewalk by Thomas Marshburn and Kayla Barron or to International Space Station operations,” NASA stated on Tuesday evening. “Delaying the spacewalk provided an opportunity for NASA to evaluate the risk from the debris notification. The spacewalk to replace a faulty antenna system on the station’s truss structure is now planned for Thursday, Dec. 2.”

Assuming the original times stick, coverage of the next spacewalk will begin early Thursday morning this week:

NASA astronauts Thomas Marshburn and Kayla Barron will exit the Quest airlock around 7:10 a.m. EST to replace an S-band Antenna Subassembly (SASA) with a spare already available on the station’s truss structure. The space station transmits low-rate voice and data with flight controllers on the ground over the S-band of radio frequencies. Live coverage will begin at 5:30 a.m.

While NASA didn’t connect the dots between events, a Russian anti-satellite test conducted earlier this month that put astronauts and cosmonauts aboard the ISS at risk has dramatically increased the debris field around the space station.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has said that debris fields have affected Starlink internet satellite placement in orbit while noting that the risk from impact is much higher for astronauts in space suits.

“We had to shift some Starlink satellite orbits to reduce probability of collision,” Musk stated. “Not great, but not terrible either. Station & Dragon have micrometeorite shields (ultra high velocity impact absorption), but EVA suits do not, hence higher risk for spacewalk.”

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