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Spacewalk attempt to install new solar array on space station postponed

French astronaut Thomas Pesquet returns to an airlock during a spacewalk Wednesday at the International Space Station. Photo courtesy of NASA
French astronaut Thomas Pesquet returns to an airlock during a spacewalk Wednesday at the International Space Station. Photo courtesy of NASA

ORLANDO, Fla., June 16 (UPI) -- A mechanical problem foiled two astronauts' efforts Wednesday to install a massive new solar array on the International Space Station during a spacewalk that lasted 7 hours, 15 minutes.

Six hours into the spacewalk, NASA Mission Control in Houston decided to scrap the plan to deploy the array. NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough and French astronaut Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency will help the agency evaluate the problem before engineers attempt to fix it.

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"They have encountered some interference with a piece of equipment on [a] mounting bracket," a NASA announcer on a live broadcast said. "And so the recommendation is to refold the array back into its folded position, and then bolt it in place to leave it for further analysis on a subsequent spacewalk."

The pair of spacewalkers fell behind schedule after three hours into the job when NASA detected brief data gaps coming from Kimbrough's spacesuit. He was ordered back to an airlock to reboot the data system. NASA said he was never in danger, but the reboot cost one hour of the spacewalk duration.

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The two had begun work to unroll the 63-foot-long array -- known as iROSA, for International Space Station Roll-Out Solar Array -- and attach it to one of the space station's older solar arrays.

"Six iROSA solar arrays in the planned configuration will augment the power drawn from the existing arrays," according to a NASA press release.

The two astronauts had planned another spacewalk to install a second array Sunday, and NASA didn't immediately announce whether that would occur.

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The solar arrays arrived at the space station June 5 in a SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule, the 22nd such mission for the company.

Operators on the ground in Houston extracted the solar arrays from the capsule remotely Thursday.

NASA designed the existing solar arrays to last for 15 years. They've now been used for 20 years and are degrading, the space agency said. But announcers said Wednesday there's no urgency to install the new panels immediately.

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The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches NASA's second crew to the International Space Station at 5:49 a.m. Friday from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo by Joe Marino/UPI | License Photo

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