Jules Verne cargo ship to depart space station today
BY STEPHEN CLARK
Posted: September 5, 2008
Europe's first state-of-the-art Automated Transfer Vehicle will depart the international space station this afternoon after a five-month stay that delivered more than 10,000 pounds of cargo to the complex.
Undocking is on tap for about 2130 GMT (5:30 p.m. EDT), ending a 155-day mission attached to the aft docking port of the station's Zvezda service module.
The vessel is named Jules Verne after the visionary 19th century science fiction writer.
The station's three-person crew - Russian commander Sergei Volkov, flight engineer Oleg Kononenko and American science officer Greg Chamitoff - closed hatches between Zvezda and the cargo ship Thursday, officials said.
European Space Agency engineers at the ATV control center in Toulouse will send commands for Jules Verne to isolate its electrical system and computers at about 2123 GMT (5:23 p.m. EDT). Two minutes later, controllers will order hooks to begin opening in the docking mechanism connecting Jules Verne to Zvezda.
Physical separation from the station is anticipated about five minutes after the hooks start to release, said Bob Chesson, head of ESA's human spaceflight and exploration operations.
Jules Verne will fire its engines one minute after undocking to change the craft's velocity by about 9 mph. The burn will put the ship on a path below and in front of the station, Chesson said.
Volkov will be manning a remote control console inside the station to order an emergency collision avoidance maneuver if the ship's control system fails.
But Chesson said that such a need is "extremely unlikely" because Jules Verne's prime and backup systems and are still in good shape.
Jules Verne will spend the next few weeks doing more tests of its sophisticated optical rendezvous sensors to see if the instruments were polluted by purged propellants during the mission, according to Chesson.
The spacecraft is slated for a destructive re-entry into Earth's atmosphere on Sept. 29 over the South Pacific.