Monday, July 13, 2009

STS-127: Endeavour continues Station Assembly

Monday's launch of the space shuttle Endeavour will mark the start of a very dynamic mission which will see a complex array of robotics between the orbiter and the international space station during a very busy two weeks on orbit.

The crew of Endeavour - led by commander Mark "Roman" Polansky - is scheduled to dock with the international space station two days following their launch on July 15. The following day, the crew of NASA's 127th space shuttle flight will use the orbiter's fifty foot robotic arm to lift the Japanese Exposed Facility from the payload bay, and will then hand it off to the space station's robot arm.

A secondary station arm will later grapple the platform as the crew moves the experiment tray to the Japanese Kibo science module for attaching. Meanwhile, two of Endeavour's spacewalking astronauts - David A. Wolf & Timothy Kopra - will prepare the connecting points on Kibo to help attach the Japanese experiment tray to the outside of the science module.

Wolf and Kopra will also unjam a cargo carrier on the port truss which became stuck during last March's STS-119 mission. The cargo carrier works on rails along the station's backbone huge truss segment to assist spacewalkers with transport.

Four other spacewalks are planned - all scheduled to last 6 1/2 hours each. Wolf, a medical doctor from Indiana, will make spacewalks on days four, six and eight of the flight. On day six, he will join fellow Endeavour astronaut and medical doctor, Tom Marshburn, for an orbital stroll to transfer and secure spare parts to a stowage platform for later flights. Several parts include a pump module and an antenna. The pair will also install a video camera for the experiments on the forward end of the Japanese exposed facility.

On flight day eight of the STS-127 mission, Wolf will venture back outside the station with Endeavour astronaut Christopher Cassidy, a U.S. Navy Seal of ten years.

This third spacewalk of the five planned will prepare the exposed facility for the upcoming experiment transfers. They will also replace four of six huge batteries which provide power on the station's port truss segment.

Endeavour's tenth day in space will focus on the continued experiment and garbage transfers from station to shuttle; and the fourth spacewalk conducted by Cassidy and Marshburn. The two will replace the final two batteries on the port truss side, and install a second video camera on the aft side of the exposed experiment facility. A fifth spacewalk will be conducted on Day 13 of the mission also by Cassidy and Marshburn as they replace an older camera on the right truss segement.

Not only will the station be very busy, but it will also be very full as the largest population aboard one spacecraft will occur over a ten day span. Once Endeavour docks on Day 3, thirteen humans will be living and working aboard the international space station.

There will also be three manned spacecraft docked to the station, too - Endeavour and two Russian Soyuz TMA spacecrafts.

As for the robotics in space, tune in and watch the mission through out the flight via

According to the Japanese Space Agency, the "Exposed Facility is a platform that can hold up to 10 experiment payloads at a time and measures 18.4 feet wide, 16.4 feet high and 13.1 feet long". Then there is the Exposed Section, "a pallet that can hold three experiment payloads. It measures 16.1 feet wide, 7.2 feet high and 13.8 feet long". This exposed section will be returned back to Endeavour's payload bay on flight day 12 for it's return back to earth.

Three robotic arms (shuttle, station and Japan's arm) will grapple and move the pallets and then hand them off to another arm which will then move and hand them off to another arm, as Endeavour's Canadian astronaut Julie Payette and pilot Douglas Hurley control the arms while communicating to the ground. Last week here at Kennedy, Payette stated that clear communications will be key to a successful mission as 13 humans vy for the comm link to the ground, including the spacewalkers.

Also on this flight, Endeavour astronaut Kopra will replace current station astronaut Koichi Wakata, who arrived aboard the station in March via STS-119. Kopra, a Colonel in the U.S. Army, will come home in late-August aboard Discovery on STS-128.

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