Spacewalk to Install UK-built Terminal on International Space Station
Two NASA astronauts took part in a spacewalk in order to mount a British piece of technology on the International Space Station (ISS), marking the first significant technological contribution made by the United Kingdom to the spacecraft.
Columbus Ka-band Terminal (COLKa)
Almost one year ago, on 15th of February 2020, the Columbus Ka-band Terminal (COLKa) system was launched onboard the NG-13 Commercial Resupply Mission towards the International Space Station. The system was designed, developed and integrated by MDA’s UK division (MDA Space and Robotics Limited, Maxar Technologies) and funded by the UK Space Agency, ESA and the Canadian Space Agency. Additional contributions in the development of critical subsystems have also been made by Kongsberg Defence and Aerospace and Antwerp Space.
The terminal is designed to make use of the European Data Relay Satellite (EDRS) and complement the existing ISS communication systems. By operating in the Ka-band, the equipment allows higher communications bandwidth between ground stations and ESA’s Columbus laboratory, the first permanent European space-based research facility. Additionally, COLKa supplies the European Space Agency with a dedicated connection, thus making it possible for British and European scientists to access almost in real time the results of their space-borne experiments. This will greatly accelerate the research taking place in the Columbus module, since receiving the outcome of the experiments may currently take up to months of waiting, as the results are sent back to Earth on external hard drives. What is more, the link provided by the COLKa system will enable scientists to adjust the experiments in case they detect any issues with the incoming data, such as poor image quality.
Partially Completed Mission
On Wednesday 27th of January 2021, after a six hours and 56 minutes mission, NASA’s astronauts Victor Glover and Michael Hopkins installed the COLKa terminal on the ISS. However, the new system is only partially operating, as two out of six cables remain unattached and a future spacewalk is needed in order to connect the remaining wires. The two astronauts will take part in a second spacewalk on February the 1st. Until today, the total number of spacewalks performed by the ISS crew members is 233, which corresponds to 61 days, 1 hour, and 47 minutes of working in the harsh environment of space.
Science Minister Amanda Solloway said the following in regards to the Columbus Ka-band Terminal mission:
“This mission to install pioneering UK-built technology in space exemplifies how government backing is helping our most innovative companies push the boundaries of what we can achieve in space as well as back home on Earth.”
“Strengthening the speed at which data can be transmitted from space will bring enormous benefits to scientists and researchers across Europe, helping them progress vital research faster, while opening up numerous commercial opportunities for UK firms as we build back better.”
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2. Businesswire.com. 2020. MDA-Developed Columbus Ka-Band Terminal (COLKa) Starts Journey to the International Space Station. [online] Available at: https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20200215005026/en/ [Accessed 28 January 2021].
3. Esa.int. n.d. Columbus laboratory. [online] Available at: https://www.esa.int/Science_Exploration/Human_and_Robotic_Exploration/Columbus/Columbus_laboratory [Accessed 28 January 2021].
4. GOV.UK. 2021. Spacewalk to fit groundbreaking British kit to International Space Station. [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/spacewalk-to-fit-ground-breaking-british-kit-to-international-space-station [Accessed 28 January 2021].