Two Russian cosmonauts are in the middle of a spacewalk outside of the International Space Station, in part to release a nanosatellite that will take images of Earth.
The two Expedition 40 spacewalkers -- Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev -- began what is expected to be 6.5 hours of work outside the station at 10:02 a.m. ET. NASA TV is airing live coverage of the spacewalk.
Artemyev deployed a Peruvian nanosatellite, which is designed to take pictures of Earth with a pair of cameras and then transmit the images to a ground station, according to NASA. The deployment is to aid the National University of Engineering in Peru in its efforts to gain experience and test technology related to nanosatellites.
NASA, along with various universities, has been increasingly working on building and launching nanosatellites, which can be the size of a shoebox and are cheaper and easier to launch than regular, full-size satellites.
Last fall, NASA and the U.S. Air Force launched a Minotaur 1 rocket carrying 28 satellites that measure about 4 inches on each side and weigh less than 3 pounds. The satellites, dubbed CubeSats, were built by scientists and engineers from various organizations and universities, including NASA, Vermont Technical College, University of Kentucky and University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
Earlier this year, scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory reported that they are working on nanosatellites designed to act like traffic cops in space.
Researchers are hoping that dozens of the satellites in low-Earth orbit will prevent major satellites from colliding with each other or with space debris by relaying information to satellite operators on the ground.
During their spacewalk today, the cosmonauts will inspect components on the outside of the orbiting station, as well as retrieve and install scientific experiments.
The cosmonauts, who are wearing NASA's helmet cameras, will bring in several experiments that were designed to find out how various materials are affected by the harsh environment of space. They also will install two astrobiology studies on the outside of the space station that will focus on organisms that are tolerant of environmental extremes. Scientists are hoping the results will help them figure out life-detection strategies for future robotic exploration of Mars.
The spacewalk is the 181st in the history of the space station.