Space Freighter Finishes Docking Dress Rehearsals
Europe's Jules Verne cargo ship parks in front of the space station's Zvezda service module March 31, 2008.
CREDIT: NASA TV
Europe's massive "Jules Verne" space freighter wrapped up its final dress rehearsal high above the Earth, priming the ship for a Thursday docking at the International Space Station (ISS).
Looking something like an overweight X-wing fighter from the movie "Star Wars," the 21-ton automated cargo ship crept within a bus length of the space station Monday, then performed an escape maneuver below the orbital laboratory.
A joint international team of mission controllers led the "demo day" operations and are now discussing whether or not to proceed with an April 3rd docking attempt at the space station. Today's activities, however, appeared to occur without issue.
Led by commander Peggy Whitson, the Expedition 16 space station crew will unload vital supplies from the spacecraft after docking, if all goes according to plan this week. Also known as an automated transport vehicle (ATV), the craft departed Earth on March 8 and has been trailing the space station ever since.
Three control centers ? one each in France, Russia and the U.S ? led the ship through its second of two testing days with some on-orbit help from Whitson and space station flight engineer Yuri Malenchenko. Saturday's dress rehearsal was completed without any problems, setting the ship up for today's events.
The space freighter began its dress rehearsal today some 2 miles (3.2 km) behind the space station, closing the gap to the ISS by using advanced laser- and video-ranging systems.
During the more than two-hour operation, mission controllers commanded the Jules Verne into several built-in retreats to see if the craft could safely pull away from the space station, in the end resuming positioning it at a holding point about 36 feet (11 m) behind the Russian-built Zvezda service module.
After the solar-panel feathered ship parked behind the space station, Malenchenko instructed it to back off around 12:52 p.m. EDT (1652 GMT) and swing below the space station to a safe point ? an escape maneuver astronauts can use in the event of an emergency during docking.
The disposable 1.3 billion euro ($1.9 billion) spacecraft is the first of up to seven planned by the ESA. It is designed to deliver three times the fuel, oxygen, water, hardware and other supplies to the ISS than Russian Progress cargo ships are able to.
- NEW VIDEO: "Jules" heads to the ISS
- VIDEO: Part 1: Europe's First ISS Cargo Ship
- VIDEO: Part 2: Jules Verne, Europe's First ISS Cargo Tug
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