Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Space Station Happenings

Japan's H-2 rocket prepares for Launch

My busy schedule doesn't always leave me room for blogging, and a lot of space activity has been going on recently that catches my interest. On the ISS front, besides a spacewalk by Russian cosmonauts to make some maintenance repairs, there has been a vitual salvo of rocket shots aimed at the station. Japan made a successful launch of the H-2 rocket and sent its new cargo pod to the ISS.

HTV-2 docks at ISS.

The cargo pod, designated HTV-2 (Heavy Transfer Vehicle 2) reached orbit and a couple days later rendezvoused with the ISS. Using the robotic arm, the astronauts captured the pod and attached it to the docking port.

Canadarm grabs the drifting HTV-2.

Commander Kelly opening the hatch to HTV-2.

With the ending of the Space Shuttle program, the ISS will depend on regular shipments of supplies by using these automated robotic spacecraft. But Japan was not the only cargo shipper lately. Russia also launched another Progress vehicle which just arrived at the station.

Progress on the launch pad in Kazakhstan.

The Progress 41 cargo ship was carrying extra propellant, oxygen, water, and a ton and a half of parts and food. Russia has developed a very successful robotic resupply program with the Progress series. Russia also keeps one or two Soyuz capsules docked to the station for use by the astronauts and cosmonauts. Again, with the demise of the shuttle program, the Soyuz capsules are the only access for people to and from the ISS until the USA develops something new.

ESA's ATV "Jules Verne" approaching ISS.

The third cargo ship used to transfer supplies to ISS is the European Space Agency's ATV. The ATV is the largest of the cargo pods and carries about 22 tons. The first ATV was named "Jules Verne." The next one to launch is named "Johannes Kepler" and is scheduled to launch on February 15th this year.

America is also in on the cargo ship game. Just a month ago, Space X launched its very successful Falcon 9 rocket with the first Dragon cargo capsule. Unlike the other three cargo pods, instead of burning up in the atmosphere after their mission is finished, Dragon returns safely to the Earth for refurbishment and reuse. Space X plans to develop a human-rated version of the Dragon in the near future. It may even be completed before NASA is able to design a replacement for the shuttle!

On January 21st, Russian cosmonauts Kondratyev and Skripochka made a 5-hour spacewalk to retreive some experiments and install communications equipment.

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