Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Live In Orbit: Crew Prepares To Grapple Hubble

The Atlantis astronauts are closing in on the Hubble Space Telescope and aims to grapple the observatory before the top of the hour.

With mission commander Scott Altman controlling Atlantis from the aft flight deck work station, the shuttle is closing within about 300 feet of the telescope. Altman is eyeballing the four-story-tall observatory through overhead cockpit windows and Megan McArthur is ready to use the shuttle's robot arm to grasp a pin-like grapple fixture on the side of Hubble.

Flight controllers are working on a problem with a device that serves as a prime communications link between the shuttle orbiter and Hubble. The so-called "bite sync assembly" is not working properly and as a result, the crew will be able to send commands to the telescope, but they will have no insight into the results of those commands.

Hubble project engineers at the Space Telescope Operations Control Center in Greenbelt, Md., however, will be able to see the results of commands from the shuttle to the telescope and will give the astronauts appropriate cues on how to proceed with mission operations.

The Hubble team also can command the telescope through NASA's Tracking and Data Relay Satellite system, so mission operations are expected to proceed as planned.

The Hubble grapple is expected to take place at 12:54 p.m.

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