Japanese Experiments Moved to Space Station
The inter-orbit communications system is seen by a camera outside the International Space Station as it is moved to an exterior porch on the station's Kibo lab using a Japanese robotic arm on July 23, 2009 during the STS-127 mission.
Credit: NASA TV.

It was a banner day for Japan at the International Space Station Thursday, where astronauts successfully installed a set of experiments on a brand new porch on the end of the outpost?s massive Japanese laboratory.

Astronauts used a Japanese robotic arm to move two experiments and a sophisticated communications system from a carrier platform to the station?s new porch, which extends out from Japan?s $1 billion Kibo lab at the orbital outpost. The robotic arm, carrier platform and porch were all built by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) for the station.

?It was a very exciting day,? said Tetsuro Yokoyama, JAXA?s deputy project manager for the Kibo lab, during a late Thursday briefing.

The day-long experiment move marked the first time the Kibo lab?s 33-foot (10-meter) robotic arm actually manipulated payloads on the station?s external porch, which Endeavour shuttle astronauts delivered to the outpost after arriving last week. Despite some initial glitches with the arm?s grappling device, the orbital work ultimately went on as planned.

?It all worked great and we were just happy to be part of this team,? said JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata, who helped drive the Japanese robotic arm Thursday. Wakata, Japan?s first long-duration space resident, has lived aboard the station since March and will return home on Endeavour next week.

Japan?s Kibo lab porch is an external platform about 18 feet (5.6 meters) wide, 16 feet (5 meters) high and 13 feet (4 meters) long. It can hold up to 10 different experiments at a time and has a small airlock and two windows so astronauts can deploy or move payloads as needed. The porch is the last piece of the station?s giant Kibo lab, which also includes a large main module the size of a tour bus and a smaller storage attic.

The three payloads moved to the porch Thursday included: an inter-orbit communications system for beaming down images and video from the station, an experiment to study the effect of the station's space environment on electronics and devices, and an X-ray observatory to scan the night sky.

The communications system uses a dish antenna to beam images, data and voice communications to Earth by relaying them from the station to a Japanese satellite that then sends it to Japan's Kibo mission control center at the Tsukuba Space Center.

The Space Environment Data Acquisition System-Attached Payload, or SEDA-AP for short, contains several sensors for monitoring plasma, atomic oxygen, cosmic dust and radiation environment around the station. It has an extendable mast used to help collect measurements.

The final payload is the X-ray observatory, called MAXI. It has two X-ray detectors that will be used to scan the sky once every 90 minutes to study emissions from distant astronomical objects.

?We are very, very happy to see that all the payloads were successfully transferred,? JAXA astronaut Akihiko Horsehide radioed the station from Kibo?s Japanese mission control center in Tsukuba, Japan.

Yokoyama said the new experiments and communications system were doing well after their installation. They will undergo a series of tests after Endeavour leaves the station next week and will likely begin full science observations by early fall, he added.

Endeavour?s seven-astronaut crew is in the middle of a 16-day mission to deliver the station?s Japanese porch and a new crewmember. The shuttle is scheduled to leave the station next week and land July 31.

The shuttle astronauts are now gearing up for their mission?s fourth spacewalk on Friday, a 7 1/2-hour excursion to replace four old solar array batteries.

  • Video - The Kibo Lab: Japan's Hope in Space - Part 1, Part 2
  • Video - Space Station to Get Japanese Porch
  • SPACE.com Video Show - The ISS: Foothold on Forever

SPACE.com is providing continuous coverage of STS-127 with reporter Clara Moskowitz and senior editor Tariq Malik in New York. Click here for mission updates and SPACE.com's live NASA TV video feed.