European Cargo Ship Catches up to Space Station
Europe's new unmanned cargo ships will resupply the space station.
HOUSTON - Europe?s first cargo ship bound for the International Space Station (ISS) has caught up to the orbiting lab and parked itself off the outpost?s bow.
Launched late March 8, the European Space Agency?s (ESA) unmanned space freighter Jules Verne caught up to the station on Wednesday, appearing as a distant, bright dot as it passed by the ISS toward a parking spot 1,200 miles (2,000 km) ahead of the orbiting lab.
The 21-ton cargo ship, the first of a new ESA fleet of Automated Transfer Vehicles, is awaiting the departure to NASA?s space shuttle Endeavour, which is docked at the ISS for a record 12-day stay. The shuttle?s seven-astronaut crew is wrapping up work to deliver a new crewmember, Japanese room and a Canadian maintenance robot to the high-flying lab.
"The spacecraft is functioning perfectly, the team is very well trained and we are looking forward to an excellent first docking attempt on 3 April,? said ESA mission director Alberto Novelli, of the ATV Control Center in Toulouse, France, in a statement.
Endeavour?s astronaut crew is slated to undock from the ISS late Monday, March 24, clearing the way for two demonstrations of Jules Verne?s automated rendezvous systems.
On March 29, ESA flight controllers will maneuver Jules Verne to a spot about 11,482 feet (3,500 meters) away from its docking port at the aft of the space station?s Russian-built Zvezda service module. If all goes well, the spacecraft will be cleared for its second demonstration on March 31, where it is expected to close within about 40 feet (12 meters) from its berth, back way, then execute an escape maneuver to be commanded by flight controllers and astronauts aboard the station.
Only after passing both tests will the unmanned Jules Verne supply ship be approved for its April 3 docking, mission managers said.
Launched atop a European Ariane 5 rocket, the 1.3 billion euro ($1.9 billion) Jules Verne is the first of up to seven ATV spacecraft to haul supplies to the ISS.
The massive spacecraft is about the size of a London double-decker bus and can carry three times the amount of food, equipment and other vital supplies than Russia?s unmanned Progress freighters. Shaped like a cylinder with X-wing-like solar arrays, the new cargo ship is 32 feet (10 meters) long and almost 15 feet (4.5 meters) wide.
The vehicle is in good health despite a propulsion system glitch that shut down four of its 28 rocket thrusters early in the flight. Mission managers switched the spacecraft to a backup system to recover the thrusters.
Astronauts aboard Endeavour, meanwhile, had a day off Wednesday as they prepared for a Thursday spacewalk to test a space worthy goo gun for shuttle heat shield repairs. Mission Control has sent the astronauts several notes about Jules Verne?s progress, including a Wednesday message hinting at the robotic spacecraft?s impatience to dock at the ISS.
?Oh and by the way, ATV/Jules Verne has arrived in its parking spot, 1,000 miles in front of you, and is eagerly awaiting your departure so it can make its approach,? flight controllers wrote Wednesday.
- VIDEO: Part 1: Europe's First ISS Cargo Ship
- VIDEO: Part 2: Jules Verne, Europe's First ISS Cargo Tug
- VIDEO: Columbus: Europe's Orbital Lab at ISS
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