Thursday, September 17, 2009

Live In Orbit: Japanese Freighter To Dock At Station

LIVE IMAGES: The image above is the latest live image from NASA Television. It will automatically refresh itself to the most up to date image every 30 seconds.

BLOGGER NOTE, 3:28 p.m.: The HTV just reached the capture point nine meters, or about 30 feet, from the International Space Station. The grapple fixture on the HTV is now aligned with the end effector on the end of Canadarm-2. U.S. astronaut Nicole Stott is expected to grapple the HTV with the arm around 3:50 p.m.

BLOGGER NOTE< 3:17 p.m.: The HTV is about 10 minutes from arriving at the capture point about 30 feet below the International Space Station.

BLOGGER NOTE, 2:40 p.m.: NASA TV coverage of the HTV docking at the International Space Station picked up about a half-hour early and is now ongoing. Rob Navias of the Johnson Space Center Public Affairs Office is doing commentary from NASA's Mission Control Center in Houston.

A Japanese cargo carrier flying its debut mission is scheduled to arrive at the International Space Station today for an unprecedented docking at the orbiting outpost.

U.S. astronaut Nicole Stott, a former Kennedy Space Center engineer, will use the station's Canadian-built robot arm to snare the carrier -- which is the size of a small school bus. The carrier will pull within 30-feet of the station at the point of grapple, and Canadian astronaut Robert Thirsk then will berth the space freighter to the nadir, of Earth-facing, port on the U.S. Harmony module.

The grapple and docking will mark the first time the station's robot arm has been used to snatch an arriving vehicle and berth it to the station. Russian Progress space freighters and European ATV cargo carrier employ automatic docking systems.

You can watch the action live here in The Flame Trench. Simply click the NASA TV box on the right side of the page to launch our NASA TV viewer and live coverage. Be sure to refresh this page, too, for periodic updates.

NASA TV coverage will begin at 3 p.m. and the grapple is scheduled at 3:50 p.m.

The first H-II Transfer Vehicle, or HTV, was launched atop a new H II-B rocket last Thursday at Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan. Its arrival will test the new docking technique while delivering 3.5 tons of supplies to the station.

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency spent 12 years and $680 million preparing for the debut of the HTV, which opens a vital station supply line.

"JAXA is entering a new era," said Masazumi Miyake, director of the Japanese space agency's office at Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The first flight of the HTV follows the completion in July of the station's $1 billion Japanese Kibo science research facility.

The 33-foot-long cargo carrier is equipped with both pressurized and unpressurized sections. Two scientific payloads to be placed on Kibo's "back porch," an external experiment pallet, will be launched in the unpressurized section.

Commercial carriers on future flights will be berthed with the 57.5-foot station robot arm, so the arrival today is considered key to validating the docking technique.

The HTV will remain at the station about 30 days. It will depart the outpost and burn up during atmospheric reentry.

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