Japanese cargo craft reaches International Space Station
BY STEPHEN CLARK
Posted: January 27, 2011
An automated Japanese supply ship cautiously approached the International Space Station Thursday, flying close enough for the lab's robot arm to grapple the free-flying satellite and move it to a docking port for two months of cargo transfers.
"Congratulations to all of you and congratulations to the HTV flight control team," radioed astronaut Megan McArthur from mission control in Houston. "Great work today."
"Megan, we have Kounotori in our grasp," Coleman replied. "It demonstrates what we can do when humans and robots work together. We look forward to bringing HTV 2, Kounotori, aboard the International Space Station."
Japan nicknamed the bus-sized spacecraft Kounotori, which means white stork.
Three hours later, Coleman placed the 35,000-pound cargo freighter on the Harmony module's Earth-facing docking port. Bolts engaged inside the berthing port to firmly attach the spacecraft to the complex at 1451 GMT (9:51 a.m. EST).
The berthing capped a five-day chase of the space station following the HTV's blastoff Saturday from southern Japan.
The HTV cargo spacecraft, flying for the second time, delivered 8,500 pounds of spare parts, crew provisions and science gear to the station. Astronauts will open the barrel-shaped ship's hatch at about 1230 GMT (7:30 a.m. EST) Friday to start unloading 6,455 pounds of food, water, computers, cameras and science racks from the pressurized compartment.
Six refrigerator-sized racks are bolted inside the HTV, including two science experiment housings. One of the experiment racks is a Japanese gradient heating furnace designed for solidification and crystal growth research. Another rack will accommodate multiple smaller experiments.
The HTV is the only robotic spacecraft capable of carrying such large components to the station, and it will, at least for some time, be the only operational vehicle with such heavy-lifting capacity after the retirement of the space shuttle.
An extra flex hose rotary coupler for the station's cooling system and a cargo container with spare circuit breaker units are bolted to this mission's external logistics pallet. This HTV hoisted 2,043 pounds of unpressurized cargo to the station, mostly for NASA.
Astronauts will use the outpost's Canadian and Japanese robot arms to pull the cargo carrier out of the HTV Feb. 1 and fasten it to the porch of the Kibo module. Mounted on the end of the station's primary Canadian arm, a two-armed robot named Dextre will transfer the flex hose rotary coupler and cargo box to storage platforms between Feb. 2 and 4.
The empty pallet will be returned to the HTV later in the mission.
Thursday's arrival marks the start of a flurry of traffic at the space station.
A Russian Progress spaceship was rolled to the launch pad earlier this week. Liftoff of that craft on a Soyuz rocket is scheduled for Thursday evening, U.S. time. The Progress will dock to the station Saturday night.
Europe is preparing its counterpart to the HTV - the Automated Transfer Vehicle - for launch Feb. 15 on an Ariane 5 rocket. It will reach the complex Feb. 23.
Fearing damage from the shuttle's thruster plumes, space station managers have ordered the HTV be moved from the Harmony module's bottom, or nadir, port to a safer position on an upward-facing port during Discovery's visit. That robotics task is scheduled for around Feb. 18, according to a NASA spokesperson.
The HTV will be moved back to the nadir berthing location after Discovery leaves.
Astronauts plan to load the cylindrical spacecraft with trash before robotically removing it from the station and releasing it into space March 28. Japanese controllers will intentionally fly the HTV back into the Earth's atmosphere the next day, destroying the craft and disposing of the station's trash in a fireball over the Pacific Ocean.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency developed the 33-foot-long resupply ship for more than $700 million to fulfill part of its obligations as a space station partner. NASA reserves room for U.S. equipment on the HTV in exchange for three space shuttle missions that flew pieces of Japan's Kibo lab to the outpost.
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. is the HTV's prime contractor.
Japan is building five more HTVs for cargo missions about once per year through 2016. The next Japanese logistics flight is scheduled for the first half of 2012.