Japan's HTV cargo craft to leave space station Monday
BY STEPHEN CLARK
Posted: March 27, 2011
Filled with packing foam and other refuse, a Japanese cargo ship is due to be unbolted from the International Space Station and released with the lab's robot arm Monday.
The astronauts will maneuver the cargo craft about 30 feet below the space station and release the arm's grasp on the vehicle before a retreat command is issued to guide it away from the complex.
The departure of the 33-foot-long H-2 Transfer Vehicle will come less than three weeks after Japan's space station control center was damaged during the March 11 earthquake that struck the country's northeast coastline.
Full commanding, telemetry and voice capabilities were restored to the Space Station Integration and Promotion Center last Monday. The control center is located in Tsukuba, Japan, about 30 miles northeast of central Tokyo.
The Tsukuba control center resumed full operations for the space station's Kibo laboratory and the HTV cargo craft after NASA's mission control center in Houston looked after the vehicles in the immediate aftermath of the March 11 quake.
The three-person space station crew was scheduled to close the hatch between the Harmony module and the HTV Sunday morning.
The craft's pressurized cabin is loaded with trash and bulky foam packing material left over from the shuttle Discovery's visit in early March. The foam helped safeguard payloads inside the Permanent Multipurpose Module, a new storage room delivered by Discovery.
Two separation engine burns will guide the HTV safely away from the space station after its release, setting the stage for a de-orbit burn around 0237 GMT Wednesday (10:37 p.m. EDT Tuesday).
The more than $200 million spacecraft will plunge back into Earth's atmosphere over the south Pacific Ocean, spreading what debris survives the ship's fiery break-up over a desolate stretch of sea about a half-hour after the de-orbit engine firing.
Nicknamed Kounotori 2, the HTV blasted off Jan. 22 from the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan and reached the space station five days later. It is the second flight of the Japanese cargo freighter.
The spacecraft carried 8,500 pounds of experiments, supplies and spare parts to the station.
In its external payload bay, the HTV delivered a spare flex hose rotary coupler for the space station's cooling system and a cargo transfer container holding fresh electrical circuit breakers and a video distribution unit.
Astronauts and ground controllers robotically placed those payloads on storage locations oustide the orbiting lab.
The crew manually unpacked science gear, spare parts and crew provisions from the HTV's pressurized section before replacing the supplies with trash and foam.