Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Japan's hopes ride on resupply trip to space station

Italy's Paolo Nespoli at the station's workstation. (NASA)

Japan will kick-off a very busy week on Saturday as they launch a resupply craft to the International Station Station along with the future of their space program.

The week promises to be one of the busiest periods aboard the space station in it's twelve year history.

Japan's largest rocket the HII-B will carry into earth orbit their second supply ship, KOUNOTORI 2 loaded with supplies located in both a pressurized and non-pressurized section.

The supply craft, also known as the HTV 2, is an improved version of the first supply craft launched in 2009 to allow for more cargo.

KOUNOTORI was selected as the name in a contest held by Japan's space agency JAXA, and means "White Stork" in the native language.

One of the partners of the space station, the pride of Japan and their space future will also be riding on this week's launch.

HTV Project manager Yoshihiko Torano expressed his thoughts on the flight, "I feel that expectations this time (for a successful flight) are probably 100 percent. If, by any chance, we fail this time, we will be criticized".

Japan became the fourth country in 2009 to have the ability to launch an unmanned craft to the station loaded with fresh supplies.

"Even under the pressure of budget restrictions", Torano added, "no failure or excuse is acceptable."

The HII-B rocket is scheduled to lift-off on January 22 at 12:37:05 a.m. EST (2:37 pm local time) from the Tanegashima Space Center. The flight will mark the HII-B second flight.

Clouds forecast for Thursday delayed the launch date by two days.

The HII-B is launched using a cryogenic fueled main stage rocket with a core engine and four strap on solid fueled boosters.

The rocket will head out over the central Pacific Ocean on a 51.65 degree inclination.

"I think we are more strained than the last (flight)," Torano states, "because I believe that the success of the second mission is often believed to be a matter of course."

Once the supply craft reaches orbit, controllers on the ground will spend the next week using it's thrusters to maneuver it higher as it catches up with it's port-of-call.

The KOUNOTORI 2 will arrive at the space station on January 27, and working from the robotics work station (below) in the American Destiny module, NASA astronaut Cady Coleman and Italian Paolo Nespoli will use the station's robotic arm to reach out and grapple the craft.

The station's arm is scheduled to dock the supply ship to the earth facing side of the Harmony module at around 7:42 a.m. later that same day.

During the past two weeks, Coleman and Nespoli have been busy running through software practices at the workstation preparing for the capture and mating of the craft to Harmony.

Once the craft docks, sixteen bolts will be driven to secure the cylindrical module to the outpost.

Station commander and NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian flight engineers Dmitry Kondratyev, Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka round out the space station's crew of six.

Hours following the berthing of the Japanese supply craft, Russia will launch their own resupply craft, Progress M-09M, for a two day orbital trip to station.

One day after Progress' docking to the Russian Pirs module on Jan. 29, the KOUNOTORI 2 will be undocked and moved several meters away to the zenith port on Harmony.

The busy week will also include a Russian spacewalk by Kondratyev and Skripochka from the Pirs airlock on Jan. 21, beginning at 9:21 a.m.

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