Saturday, February 12, 2011

Europe's Johannes Kepler cargo craft nears launch

Johannes Kepler approaches the space station over Europe. (ESA)

The European Space Agency will send their second unmanned cargo craft in to earth orbit on Tuesday to begin a week long trip to the International Space Station.

Loaded with 15,620 pounds of fresh supplies such as fuel and oxygen for earth's orbital outpost, the Johannes 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 will also make the journey into microgravity.

Kepler will become the third cargo ship to leave earth to resupply the space station this year coming on the heels of Japan and Russia's launches.

Named for the 17th century German astronomer, the Kepler will also raise the altitude of the station, and serve as a trash storage unit as the new supplies are off loaded during it's 100 days docked.

Lift-off of an Ariane 5 rocket with Europe's cargo craft is set for Tuesday at 5:13:27 pm EST (2213 GMT), from pad ELA-3 at Kourou Space Centre in French Guiana. The launch will also mark the 200th launch of an Ariane.

This flight will also mark the heaviest payload which Ariane 5 has carried into orbit, nearly 21 tons.

The launch path will carry the Ariane northeast and over the northern Atlantic Ocean and over Europe.

As the Ariane lifts-off, ground stations in the north Atlantic Ocean will feed data on the spacecraft's health to the control rooms at ATV Control Centre in Toulouse, France.

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 will be 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 10:20 a.m.

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