Monday, June 20, 2011

Europe's Kepler departs space station

Europe's Johannes Kelper cargo spacecraft pushed away from the International Space Station at 10:46 p.m. today to end a four-month stay.

Kepler delivered tons of supplies and propellant to the space station, helping to resupply it and boost the outpost's altitude to its highest level yet -- 237 miles above Earth, about 20 miles higher than before Kepler arrived.

The 35-foot spacecraft also called ATV-2  was the second Automated Transfer Vehicle launched to the station by the European Space Agency.

It blasted off Feb. 16 from Kourou in French Guiana atop an Ariane 5 rocket, and docked at the station Feb. 24, hours before shuttle Discovery launched from Kennedy Space Center on its final flight.

Filled with trash, Kepler is scheduled to burn up during its re-entry through the atmosphere Tuesday afternoon.

The ATV is one of five international vehicles that carry supplies to the station, along with the shuttle, Japan's HTV and Russia's Progress and Soyuz spacecraft.

The next Progress is scheduled to launch Tuesday morning from Kazakhstan.

After the last shuttle mission next month, NASA will look to SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corp. to begin commercial cargo deliveries to the station in 2012.

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