Wednesday, February 16, 2011
The workhorse of the European Space Agency lifted off today and into a setting sun with a cargo craft loaded with fresh supplies bound for the International Space Station.
The 200th launch of an Ariane rocket and only the 56th Ariane 5 flight launched on time with the rocket's heaviest payload to date riding a top.
Known as the Automated Transfer Vehicle, the cargo craft is named Johannes Kepler in honor of the German astronomer and mathematician from the 1600's.
Ariane 5 launched from the northeast coastline of South America late today at 4:51:02 pm EST (13 GMT), on Europe's second station resupply flight by an ATV.
At launch, the space station soared 222 miles high over northern Bolivia, South America.
"Tally Ho!," space station commander Scott Kelly radioed down upon witnessing the rocket soar following booster separation. Several of the crew member were huddled in the Cupola section of the station watching through windows 3, 4 and 7.
The Ariane tilted on a course heading northeast and up over the northern Atlantic Ocean and over Europe.
Loaded with 15,620 pounds of fresh supplies such as fuel and oxygen for earth's orbital outpost, the Kepler cargo craft can deliver more cargo than Japan's HTV-II or Russia's Progress-M supply crafts, according to ESA.
Several racks of experiments made the journey into microgravity.
Sixty-four minutes after launch, the ATV Kepler was released from the rocket's third stage as it passed 166 miles above a region south of New Zealand.
Eighty-eight minutes after launch, the ATV 2 deployed a criss cross of four solar array sections near the aft section which will generate power.
Kepler become the third cargo ship to leave earth to resupply the space station in the last four weeks, coming on the heels of Japan and Russia's launches.
The mission's director Kris Capelle and his team of nearly sixty engineers and controllers will receive station updates and be told from the Russian Space Agency's control room during the ATV's trek toward the station.
We are responsible for the ATV side of it. The Russian's are responsible for the (station) side of it," Capelle said this week. "So (Russia) will give us a go if we are allowed to go to the next step or not."
Kepler was placed into an initial orbit of 162 miles, lower than that of space station's 222 mile high orbit. This will allow the automated cargo craft to catch up with it's port-of-call at a quicker rate.
Sixty-four minutes after launch, the ATV Kepler will be released from the rocket's third stage as it passes south of New Zealand.
As Johannes Kepler sails upon the ocean of space, the craft will use twenty thrusters to maneuver and control it's attitude as it's orbit is raised.
As the ATV approaches the space station, ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli will monitor the craft's approach via television monitors. The craft's approach will be out of view from the station's windows.
Docking to the space station's Russian Zvezda module is planned for Feb. 23 at about 10:45 a.m.
The third and final budgeted ATV is scheduled for launch in Spring 2012. Europe is working to have a fourth ATV funded and built for late-2013.
Today's launch is important to NASA as they prepare for the launch of the space shuttle Discovery late next week. A NASA flight readiness review by managers is scheduled for Friday, and they will set a firm launch date based on today's lift-off.