Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Key cargo arrives for one of last shuttle flights

Kennedy Space Center workers are unpacking a key piece of cargo that the second-to-last shuttle flight will deliver to the International Space Station.

Sunday's arrival of the large, waffle-patterned platform designed to store spare parts filled some of the void left when Atlantis flew two of them to the station last month.

Designed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, the platforms are officially called Express Logistics Carriers, or ELCs (nicknamed "elks" by some workers). The new arrival is ELC-3, the third of four headed to the station.

Measuring 16 feet by 14 feet and weighing roughly 13,000 pounds, the ELC is expected to be placed on the right side of the station's football field-length central truss, or backbone, next to ELC-2.

Among the spare parts ELC-3 will hold are two S-band communications antennas, a high-pressure gas tank, spares for the Dextre robot and micrometeoroid debris shields.

Endeavour will also haul up the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, a particle physics detector that will search for dark matter, which will be positioned on cargo attachment device deployed during Atlantis' November mission (corrected from earlier post: AMS will not be housed on ELC-3). The spectrometer is expected to be delivered to KSC in March.

The mission is about 233 days from a targeted July 29 launch, according to the countdown clock provided here. It is the final scheduled flight for Endeavour, which is now getting ready for a February mission.

The final shuttle flight, by Discovery, is slated to deliver another batch of large spares to the station on ELC-4.

Click here for NASA summaries of the five remaining shuttle flights.

IMAGE NOTE: Above, in the Space Station Processing Facility at Kennedy Space Center, workers unwrap the ExPRESS Logistics Carrier 3, or ELC-3, still nestled in its transportation case. ELC-3 and the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer are the primary payloads for space shuttle Endeavour's STS-134 mission to the International Space Station. Below, at KSC's Shuttle Landing Facility, preparations are under way to offload the ExPRESS Logistics Carrier 3, or ELC-3, from a U.S. Air Force C-5 aircraft. Photo credits: NASA/Kim Shiflett

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