Saturday, June 15, 2013

Two Dockings, Two Stations

Chinese Space Agency art of docking with Tiangong 1. Credit: Xinhua.

The Shenzhou 10 spacecraft completed docking with the Tiangong 1 space station on Thursday afternoon, Beijing time. Although the procedure was run automatically, Mission COntrol on the ground and Pilots in the spacecraft stood ready to intervene in case of malfunction. This success makes the second manned docking of spacecraft for China. China is the third nation after America and Russia to develop their space program to include rendezvous and docking two spaceships.

View from ISS of Progress 51 backing away from the station.

The docking at the International Space Station was a bit trickier. A busy place at normal times, when Europes largest spacecraft comes calling, you have to make room. A couple of Progress robotic space cargo ships were already docked at the ISS, so Progress 51 was released. The craft had been filled with garbage, waste, and unwanted items to make room for new supplies coming up. Originally, when Progress 51 blasted up into orbit, it had suffered a communications antenna failure and had to rely on backup systems. With the release from the station, engineers will have a few days to work with the system from mission control and try to resolve the problem from the ground. Then they will deorbit the craft to burn up over the ocean.

ATV-4 approaches the docking port. Lens flares provided by JJ Abrams : )

ATV-4, "Albert Einstein" is the 4th and heaviest spacecraft launched by the European Space Agency. it is carrying 5000+ pounds of cargo, hardware and supplies, plus 1200+ pounds of water and 200+ pounds of atmosphere. It has now docked at the end of the Russian Zvesda module. Once emptied of supplies, it will serve as more room for the astronauts and as storage space. WHen it is time to remove more waste and garbage, it will follow Progress 51 into a deorbit burn.

Currently, only the SpaceX Dragon Cargo ship is capable of returning experiments and valuable items to Earth for study.

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