February 24, 2011

ESA’s Space Freighter Docks With ISS

Europe's Johannes Kepler space freighter docked with the International Space Station (ISS) on Thursday.

The unmanned robotic truck attached itself to the Zvezda module on the rear of the ISS.

The sophisticated ship is delivering new supplies of fuel, food, air, and equipment to the ISS's astronauts.

Kepler is completely automatic and uses computerized systems and sensors to find the station in orbit and make the connection.

The Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) traveled 310,000 miles since launching eight days ago to dock with an accuracy that could be measured in inches.

"It went as smooth as we could have dreamed it would," European Space Agency Director-General Jean-Jacques Dordain told BBC News.

The ATV's managers oversaw the final automated maneuvers but had no need to intervene.

Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli and Russian cosmonaut Aleksandr Kaleri were inside Zvezda when Kepler made its final approach.

The docking permits NASA's space shuttle Discovery to launch from Florida later on Thursday.  The shuttle will be carrying up six astronauts and a smart humanoid robot for the ISS.

The ATV is the second ship of its kind to launch to the ISS by the European Space Agency (ESA).

The first ATV was Jules Verne and it completed its mission in 2008.

One of the freighter's main tasks will be to raise the altitude of the ISS, which is currently orbiting at about 217-miles above Earth.

The ISS tends to fall back towards Earth over time as it drags through the top of the atmosphere.

Every few weeks the freighter will fire its thrusters to accelerate the platform and take it higher into the sky.

The freighter will be used like a store cupboard for astronauts aboard the ISS.

They will go into the pressurized vessel to obtain food, clothing and equipment when they need it. 

As Kepler's supplies become depleted, the vehicle will take the waste into a controlled burn-up over the Pacific Ocean when it leaves the station sometime around June.


Image Caption: ATV Johannes Kepler in final moments before docking with ISS Credits: ESA


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