Two astronauts will today undertake a spacewalk to install a revolutionary piece of government-funded technology on the International Space Station (ISS), marking the UK’s first major industrial contribution to the spacecraft.
Called ColKa for ‘Columbus Ka-band Terminal’, the UK Space Agency-funded system will revolutionise scientists’ ability in the UK and Europe to access the results of their space-based experiments, from investigations into the effects of radiation on seeds to biomining research. The results will help unlock benefits for all of us, from understanding how our bodies and muscles age to furthering our understanding of illnesses like cancer and Parkinson’s Disease.
This giant leap forward for research carried out in the Columbus module will allow astronauts and researchers to benefit from a dedicated link back to Earth at home broadband speeds. Currently, results are returned to Earth on a hard drive, which could take months to receive, with data sometimes being lost in transit. The new terminal will enable results to be delivered to scientists just a day or two after the data is recorded – allowing scientists to process information much more quickly and adjust experiments if they see any problems with the data, such as an unclear image.
NASA’s Victor Glover and Michael Hopkins will venture outside the space station for 6 hours to mount the UK-built large suitcase-sized device to the European Space Agency’s Columbus module on the ISS.
David Kenyon, Managing Director at MDA UK based in Harwell, which designed and built ColKa using the RAL Space clean rooms on the Harwell Campus, said: “We are extremely excited that ColKa is being brought into service. This system is our first flight system developed through MDA UK, and we now have equipment for another seven flight missions, including four lunar systems, under development in Harwell. ColKa will bring tremendous benefit to all our ESA astronauts, scientists and projects.”