Wednesday, February 16, 2011

European Supply Ship En Route To Station

A European cargo carrier is en route to the International Space Station today after a successful launch from a South American spaceport.

Europe's second Automated Transfer Vehicle -- dubbed Johannes Kepler for the 16th century astronomer and mathematician -- was dropped off in low Earth orbit by an Ariane 5 rocket that blasted off at 4:50 p.m. EST from Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana.

About the size of a double-decker bus, the cylindrical cargo carrier -- which is hauling up thousands of pounds of supplies, equipment and fuel -- is scheduled to arrive at the station around 10:45 a.m. Feb. 24.

Shuttle Discovery is scheduled to launch at 4:50 p.m. Feb. 24 and arrive at the station at 2:09 p.m. Feb. 26.

Flight rules call for a 72-hour separation between the arrivals of visiting vehicles. That would dictate a one-day launch slip – to 4:24 p.m. Feb. 25 – for shuttle Discovery. A launch then would lead to a 1:05 p.m. Feb. 27 shuttle docking at the station.

But NASA and its international partners are thinking about waiving that flight rule and proceeding with a shuttle launch attempt as currently scheduled on Feb. 24.

A decision is to be made Friday at a top-level readiness review for Discovery’s 39th and final flight.

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