Two astronauts have completed a spacewalk to install a British-built broadband hub that will beam scientific research back to Earth.
The technology marks the UK’s first major industrial contribution to the International Space Station (ISS).
Called ColKa, short for Columbus Ka-band Terminal, the system will allow astronauts to communicate with Earth at home broadband speeds.
It will revolutionise scientists’ ability in the UK and Europe to access the results of space-based experiments, from investigations into the effects of radiation on seeds to biomining research.
The results will help researchers to understand things like how our bodies and muscles age, and further their 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 allow results to be delivered to scientists just a day or two after the data is recorded.
This will allow scientists to process information much more quickly and adjust experiments if they see any problems with the data, such as an unclear image.
On Wednesday Nasa’s Victor Glover and Michael Hopkins ventured outside the space station to mount the UK-built, UK Space Agency-funded, large suitcase-sized device to the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Columbus module on the ISS.
‘That’s a beautiful view,’ Mr Hopkins said as the ISS soared 260 miles above Kazakhstan.
Science minister Amanda Solloway said: ‘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.’
Tethered to the ISS by a retractable steel cable, the astronauts faced challenging conditions as they worked to install the terminal.
They went without food for hours as they worked in the harsh thermal vacuum of space, where the temperature can be as hot as 120C in the sunlight, down to minus 160C when the sun is out of sight.