Russian spacewalkers install gear at space station

Image: Russian cosmonaut Kondratyev works to install an experimental Russian radio transmission system during their spacewalk outside the International Space Station
In this image from NASA TV, Russian cosmonaut Dmitry Kondratyev performs installation tasks during Friday's spacewalk at the International Space Station.NASA TV / X00557
/ Source: Space.com

A pair of Russian spacewalkers breezed through a series of chores outside the International Space Station on Friday, installing a camera and an experimental radio system.

Astronauts Dmitry Kondratyev and Oleg Skripochka, Expedition 26 flight engineers, set up the radio antenna and routed cable for it, then tossed the cover and cable reel overboard. TV cameras showed the items tumbling harmlessly away.

The radio system is designed to transmit large data files to Russian ground controllers.

The men also retrieved a pair of old science experiments. They worked so quickly the spacewalk ended almost an hour early, taking place on the eve of Japan's first-ever launch of a space station supply ship.

"Guys, thank you very much for excellent work," Russian Mission Control radioed.

Their four crewmates — two Americans, a fellow Russian and an Italian — monitored the 5½-hour spacewalk from inside. The hatches of the station's Pirs docking compartment airlock opened at 9:29 a.m. ET.

The placement of a TV camera on the Rassvet mini-research module will assist in future dockings of vehicles to that port.

Friday's outing marked Kondratyev's first spacewalk and Skripochka's second. Skripochka completed his first spacewalk on Nov. 15, 2010 — an excursion that lasted six hours and 27 minutes. [FAQ: How Do Astronauts Take Spacewalks?]

Before the start of the spacewalk, space station commander Scott Kelly and cosmonaut Alexander Kaleri climbed into their Soyuz 24 spacecraft, which is still docked to the Russian Poisk module, and sealed the hatches between the Poisk and Zvezda modules. This protects against the unlikely possibility of a sudden station depressurization, and also enables the forward portion of Zvezda to be used as a backup airlock if necessary.

Other station crew members Cady Coleman and Paolo Nespoli are in the station's U.S. segment and will have access to their Soyuz 25 spacecraft, which is docked to the Rassvet module.

Spacewalking tasks
The first task for the spacewalking duo was to deploy an antenna for the new high-speed data transmission system, which is designed to enable large data files to be transmitted using radio technology at a speed of about 100 megabytes per second.

Kondratyev and Skripochka were also installing cables to connect the antenna to the computer systems inside the station.

The next task was to remove an old plasma pulse experiment that failed early on. The spacewalkers were also due to remove a joint Russian and European Space Agency package that contains a number of material samples that have been left open to the space environment for research. Three cassettes from this experiment, called Expose-R, will be removed inside the station, sealed and carried on a returning Soyuz for study on Earth.

During a previous Russian spacewalk in November, crew members had trouble installing a new docking camera due to interference with multi-layer insulation adjacent to the camera mount. On this outing, Kondratyev and Skripochka are using a special cutter to rip the threads on some of the insulation material to allow full access to the camera mount.

Once the camera is installed, they'll mate the camera's cable to a pre-wired connector that will route the video into the station. The camera isn't crucial to Soyuz and Progress dockings on Rassvet, but provides additional views for remote-control operations when necessary.

Future spacewalks
Kondratyev and Skripochka are scheduled to conduct another spacewalk on Feb. 16. For that excursion, the crew will focus on installing two more scientific experiments on the Zvezda module. The first is called Radiometria, and is designed to collect information useful in seismic forecasts and earthquake predictions. The second is Molniya-Gamma, which will look at gamma splashes and optical radiation during terrestrial lightning and thunderstorm conditions using three sensors.

They will also retrieve two Komplast panels from the exterior of the Zarya module, and deploy a small satellite named ARISSat-1. The panels contain materials exposed to space, and are part of a series of international experiments looking for the best materials to use in building long-duration spacecraft.

You can follow SPACE.com Staff Writer Denise Chow on Twitter and SPACE.com () for live coverage of the spacewalk. Click to see updates on SPACE.com's Facebook page. This report was updated by msnbc.com.

The Associated Press also contributed to this report.