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Italian in orbit

FROM DECEMBER 2010 to May 2011, Paolo Nespoli, ESA’s Italian astronaut, is carrying out an intensive programme of tasks, experiments and educational activities aboard the International Space Station.

His duties include participating in the docking operations to receive two cargo spacecraft: Europe’s second Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) Johannes Kepler, and the second Japanese HII Transfer Vehicle (HTV).

More than 30 experiments are planned during the mission, a programme that will cover human research, fluid physics, radiation, biology and technology demonstrations. Educational activities are also scheduled during this six-month mission.

The overall project is called MagISStra, combining the Latin word ‘magistra’, a female teacher, with ISS, the acronym of the International Space Station. This Latin influence not only brings an Italian flavour to the project, it also echoes the humanistic value of the mission.

Please note this video was produced in December 2010, before Nespoli launched to the ISS. He arrived at the station aboard Soyuz flight TMA-20 on December 15, 2010, and is due to return in May 2011.

More information can be found ESA’s MagISStra site.

Adapted from information issued by ESA.

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Cargo ship on way to Space Station

Photo showing boosters being jettisoned from the Ariane 5

Photo captured from the real-time video from the Ariane 5 launcher, looking back down the main body of the rocket and showing the jettisoning of the booster rockets.

EUROPE’S SECOND Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), Johannes Kepler, has been launched into its targeted low orbit by an Ariane 5 rocket. The unmanned supply ship is planned to deliver critical supplies and re-boost the International Space Station (ISS) during its almost four-month mission.

The Ariane 5 lifted off from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, at 8:50am Thursday, February 17, Sydney time (21:50 GMT Wednesday).

The launcher and its 20-tonne payload flew over the Atlantic towards the Azores and Europe. An initial 8-minute burn of the upper stage injected it, with Johannes Kepler, into a low orbit inclined at 51.6 degrees to the equator.

After a 42-minute coast, the upper stage reignited for 30 seconds to circularise the orbit at an altitude of 260 kilometres. About 64 minutes into flight, the unmanned supply ship separated safely from the spent upper stage.

The Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) deployed its four solar wings soon after proceed with early orbit operations to begin its climb to the International Space Station (ISS).

First of four

“This launch takes place in a crowded and changing manifest for the ISS access, with HTV, Progress, ATV and the Shuttle coming and going,” said Jean-Jacques Dordain, ESA’s Director General. “In October last year we had fixed the ATV launch schedule with our international partners, and we could keep that schedule thanks to the expertise and dedication of the European industry and Arianespace, of ESA and CNES teams and of our international partners.”

“ATV-2 is the first of a production of four and this new step is the result of technical expertise and political support from Member States to ESA and to international cooperation. We are now looking for the docking to ISS to declare success.”

“ATV Johannes Kepler is inaugurating our regular service line to the ISS,”added Simonetta Di Pippo, ESA’s Director for Human Spaceflight.

For the first time, ESA used a special access device to load last-minute cargo items. “This late access confirms ATV’s role as a critical resupply vehicle for the Space Station,” she said.

Artist's impression of ATV Johannes Kepler

Artist's impression of the Automated Transfer Vehicle Johannes Kepler.

“Right now, integration for the next vehicle in line, Edoardo Amaldi, will be finished in Europe in August 2011, and production is under way for ATV-4 and -5.” Mrs Di Pippo confirmed that “Edoardo Amaldi is planned for launch in about 12 months. The other two will follow by 2014.”

Flying in the same orbital plane as the Station but well below its 350 km-high orbit, ATV is being constantly monitored by the dedicated ESA/CNES ATV Control Centre (ATV-CC) in Toulouse, France, in coordination with the ISS control centres in Moscow and Houston.

During the coming week, ATV will adjust its orbit to rendezvous with the ISS for docking on Thursday, 24 February.

Europe’s smart supply ship

Unlike its 2008 predecessor, ATV Jules Verne, ATV Johannes Kepler will not perform practice demonstration manoeuvres. Instead, it will dock directly and autonomously with Russia’s Zvezda module to deliver cargo, propellant and oxygen to the orbital outpost.

The ATVs are contributing to the support and maintenance of the ISS together with Russia’s Progress and Japan’s H-II Transfer Vehicle, the second of which is now docked to the European-built Node-2.

These three independent servicing systems provide a secure logistics lifeline, while NASA’s space shuttle is going to be phased out later this year.

This launch also marks the 200th flight of an Ariane vehicle since the debut of 24 December 1979. The total includes 116 flights of Ariane 4 from 1988 to 2003 and 56 flights of Ariane 5 from 1996.

Now in its fourth decade of service, Europe’s family of launchers has lofted some 330 payloads to Earth orbit and beyond. Among these, 31 were for ESA, including deep-space probes, astronomical observatories, meteorology, remote sensing and communication satellites, as well as ISS resupply ships.

Adapted from information issued by ESA. Image credits: ESA / D. Ducros.

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Johannes Kepler to reach orbit

IN RECENT WEEKS two space freighters, the Russian Progress and Japanese HTV, have arrived at the International Space Station. But the most important logistics spacecraft for the ISS is Europe’s Automated Transfer Vehicle. ATV-2, also known as Johannes Kepler, is to be launched from Kourou, French Guiana, carrying 7 tonnes of cargo.

Launch is due at 22:13:27 UTC on February 15 (19:13:27 Kourou time or 23:13:27 Central European Time), which is 9:13am on February 16, Sydney time in Australia.

The two videos shown here, courtesy of the European Space Agency, describe the purpose of the mission.

Adapted from information issued by ESA.

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Europe’s year ahead in space

THIS VIDEO FROM THE European Space Agency (ESA) gives a preview of what to expect in 2011.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the first human space flight: it was half a century ago that Yuri Gagarin made his historic orbit around our planet. Today, cosmonauts and astronauts from many nations are living and working together aboard the International Space Station.

Among them is ESA’s Paolo Nespoli, due to return in May from the 3rd European long-duration stay. He will later be joined by fellow ESA astronaut Roberto Vittori aboard one of the last space shuttle missions.

Other important ESA missions in 2011 are the debut of the second ATV unmanned cargo craft, planned for launch by Ariane 5 in February. Later, Europe’s spaceport in French Guyana will see the inaugural launches of the Russian Soyuz rocket and the new Vega.

ESA is also expecting interesting results from its Earth observing satellites and its Mars probe, Mars Express.

Adapted from information issued by ESA.

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Shuttle launch scrubbed

Shuttle Discovery on the launch pad at KSC

Shuttle Discovery sits on the launch pad at the Kennedy Space Centre. Repairs will be needed to fix a hydrogen leak and insulation problems before launch on November 30.

NASA has postponed the launch of space shuttle Discovery to no earlier than 8:05pm Sydney time (4:05am US EST) on November 30.

The delay will allow engineers and technicians time to diagnose and repair a hydrogen gas leak detected while filling the external tank Friday morning. They also will assess a foam crack on the external fuel tank’s liquid oxygen intertank flange, near the point where the nose of Discovery is connected to the tank by a bipod brace. The crack was discovered during de-tanking operations.

The leak was at the Ground Umbilical Carrier Plate, an attachment point between the external tank and a 7-inch pipe that carries gaseous hydrogen safely away from Discovery to the flare stack, where it is burned off.

“We always place safety first,” said NASA Associate Administrator for Space Operations Bill Gerstenmaier. “It is essential we repair this hardware before we fly the mission, and we will take the time to properly understand and fix the failure before we launch.”

The six astronauts for Discovery’s 11-day STS-133 mission will deliver the Permanent Multipurpose Module to the International Space Station. The PMM was converted from the multi-purpose logistics module Leonardo. It can hold microgravity experiments in areas such as fluid physics, materials science, biology, and biotechnology.

Inside the PMM is Robonaut 2, which will become a permanent resident of the station. R2 will be used to test how dexterous robots behave in space.

STS-133 also is carrying critical spare components to the space station and the Express Logistics Carrier 4. ELC 4 is an external platform that holds large equipment. The mission will feature two spacewalks to do maintenance work and install new components.

Commander Steve Lindsey leads the veteran crew, which consists of pilot Eric Boe and Mission Specialists Alvin Drew, Tim Kopra, Michael Barratt and Nicole Stott.

STS-133 is the final shuttle mission planned for 2010, Discovery’s 39th and final scheduled flight, and the 35th shuttle mission to the station.

Adapted from information issued by NASA.

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Robot heads for the Station

Robonaut 2 is ready for its history-making launch to the International Space Station on STS-133. Known as R2, the robot will be the first humanoid machine to work in orbit.

With an upper torso, long arms and a suite of cameras and sensors, Robonaut 2 is programmed to help astronauts living on the space station by performing repetitive tasks. It’s hands and fingers are able to operate buttons and switches found inside the space station.

Adapted from information issued by NASA.

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Discovery to launch on last flight

UPDATE: Discovery’s lift-off is now set for 6:04am Sydney time Saturday (Thursday 1904 GMT or 3:04pm US EDT).

As space shuttle Discovery heads to the International Space Station on its final mission, it will be taking with it two key components—the Italian-built Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM) and Express Logistics Carrier 4 (ELC4)—which will provide spare parts and storage capacity to the orbiting complex.

Discovery also will deliver Robonaut 2, which will become the first humanoid robot in space.

The 39th flight of NASA’s most flown shuttle is scheduled to last 11 days. The flight is designated Utilisation and Logistics Flight 5 (ULF5), in the assembly sequence of the space station.

Adapted from information issued by NASA.

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NASA video update

The next hardware to fly to the International Space Station, the permanent multi-purpose module, has been unveiled to reporters at the Kennedy Space Centre. Once unloaded of spare parts and supplies, the PMM will be installed on the station and used for numerous microgravity experiments.

Adapted from information issued by NASA.

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Spacewalk repair video

NASA astronauts Douglas Wheelock and Tracy Caldwell Dyson wrapped up a difficult spacewalk on Saturday (US time) on the exterior of the International Space Station.

The spacewalk became necessary after a failure in the ammonia coolant system aboard the Station.

Heat generated by the Station’s internal equipment and occupants needs to be absorbed and radiated away into space, otherwise the Station would quickly overheat.

Heat is transferred into ammonia fluid that then circulates through pipes inside panels that stick out from the side of the Station. There, the heat radiates into space.

Failure of a pump meant that half the station’s cooling system had gone down, necessitating the spacewalk to replace the pump with a spare kept on the outside of the Station.

During Saturday’s spacewalk, the astronauts got half the work done – isolating the faulty pump. In an upcoming spacewalk, they’ll finish the job by installing the replacement pump.

Video courtesy NASA.

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Shuttle’s final fuel tank arrives

Tugboats towing NASA's Pegasus barge carrying External Tank-138

Tugboats tow NASA's Pegasus barge carrying External Tank-138 on the Banana River toward Launch Complex 39. The barge delivered the external fuel tank to the turn basin dock at NASA's Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, where it was offloaded and moved into the Vehicle Assembly Building.

The last space shuttle mission, STS-134, is due for lift-off in February next year. During the flight, shuttle Endeavour will transport the final large components and supplies up to the International Space Station.

The largest part of a space shuttle “stack” is the External Tank (ET), upon which the shuttle sits and from which it draws the hydrogen and oxygen that powers its three main engines.

Each ET is 46.9 metres high, 8.4 metres wide and has an empty mass of 26,500 kilograms. Once fully fuelled on the launch pad, its mass is a whopping 760,000 kilograms.

ETs are manufactured by Lockheed Martin at Michoud Assembly Facility, New Orleans, and shipped to Kennedy aboard a barge.

This series of photos shows the arrival of ET-138, the last newly manufactured tank, designated to fly on Endeavour’s STS-134 mission.

The External Tank is offloaded from the barge.

The External Tank is offloaded from the barge.

The huge space shuttle External Tank is wheeled towards the Vehicle Assembly Building.

The huge space shuttle External Tank is wheeled towards the Vehicle Assembly Building.

Getting closer to the Vehicle Assembly Building.

Getting closer to the Vehicle Assembly Building.

External Tank-138 is towed through the massive doors into the transfer aisle of the Vehicle Assembly Building

External Tank-138 is towed through the massive doors into the transfer aisle of the Vehicle Assembly Building

The External Tank is inside the Vehicle Assembly Building

Once the External Tank is inside the Vehicle Assembly Building, workers attach cables with which to lift the Tank into a vertical position.

The External Tank is lifted into the air

The External Tank is lifted into the air prior to being rotated upright.

The External Tank hangs at an angle during the slow process of tilting it upright.

The External Tank hangs at an angle during the slow process of tilting it upright.

The External Tank now upright

With the External Tank now upright, workers prepare it for its lift onto a test cell where it will be checked out before launch.

An overhead view of External Tank-138 suspended by a massive crane

An overhead view shows External Tank-138 suspended by a huge crane above the transfer aisle in the Vehicle Assembly Building

External Tank-138 is lifted high above the transfer aisle

External Tank-138 is lifted high above the transfer aisle, prior to its move to a test cell.

The Tank has been lifted into the upper levels of a high bay in the Vehicle Assembly Building

The Tank has been lifted into the upper levels of a high bay in the Vehicle Assembly Building. The final step was to lower it onto a test stand for checking before launch.

Story by Jonathan Nally, Editor, SpaceInfo.com.au

Images courtesy of NASA and photographers Jack Pfaller, Jim Grossmann and Dimitri Gerondidakis.

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