Thursday, January 27, 2011

Space Station crew captures Japanese cargo craft

Japan's "White Stork" cargo craft awaits capture. (NASA)

A Japanese cargo craft loaded with tons of fresh food and equipment was plucked out of orbit by the crew of the International Space Station today following it's five day orbital journey.

Space station astronauts Paolo Nespoli and Catherine Coleman used a 58-foot robotic arm to capture the unmanned craft at 6:41 a.m. EST, as the orbital pair flew 224 miles high off the coast of eastern Madagascar.

At the Japanese Space Agency's control room, cheers and applause broke out as Nespoli confirmed the capture.

In Houston, mission control's Megan McArthur radioed congratulations to the crew and to the ground controllers.

"It demonstrates what we can do when humans and robots work together," Coleman exclaimed with pride. "We look forward to bringing Kounotori, or HTV 2, on board the International Space Station."

The Japanese craft is known as
KOUNOTORI 2, or "White Stork" in the native language, was launched from the southern end of Japan last Saturday with over four tons of water.

The craft will be docked to Harmony at about 11 a.m. this morning.

Working from the robotics work station in the Italian-built Cupola module, Nespoli and Coleman worked with ground controllers to monitor the 33-foot long craft's position.

Cupola is a 360-degree window view, earth facing node positioned to support incoming and out going spacecraft.

As the orbiting craft's flew 222 miles high above Turkey, the cargo craft began a holding position of 820 feet from the space station at 4:53 a.m.

Thirty minutes later, the craft resumed slowly closing in on the station's Destiny module.

By 5:45 am, the craft had moved to within 290 feet and with a closing rate of four feet per second.

The craft's arrival is the first of three unmanned cargo crafts and one space shuttle ferrying supplies to earth's orbital outpost in space over the next month.

On Saturday evening, a Russian Progress craft is scheduled to dock, followed by a European supply ship on Feb. 23. Shuttle Discovery loaded with tons of supplies and a new storage module is targeted to dock three days later.

On Feb. 18, the HTV 2 will be moved to the back side of the Harmony node due to space shuttle Discovery's expected station arrival a week later. The craft will stay at station until late-March when it will be undocked and sent back down toward a March 29 reentry.

Station commander Scott Kelly and Russian flight engineers Dmitry Kondratyev, Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka round out the space station's Expedition 26 crew of six.

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