Astronauts Ready to Capture Japan’s Cargo Ship

Japan's HTV-2 cargo craft
Japan’s HTV-2 cargo craft is seen moments before its capture on Jan. 27, 2011, during Expedition 26 at the International Space Station.

Aboard the International Space Station, crew members are making final preparations for the arrival of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s HTV-6 cargo spacecraft. NASA Television is providing live coverage, available at Capture is scheduled around 6 a.m. EST.

Expedition 50 Commander Shane Kimbrough of NASA and Flight Engineer Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency) will operate the station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm from the station’s cupola to reach out and grapple the 12-ton spacecraft. Robotic ground controllers will then install it on the Earth-facing side of the Harmony module. Flight Engineer Peggy Whitson of NASA will monitor HTV-6 systems during the rendezvous and grapple.

The spacecraft is loaded with more than 4.5 tons of supplies, water, spare parts and experiment hardware for the six-person station crew. The unpiloted cargo spacecraft, named “Kounotori” – the Japanese word for white stork – launched Friday, Dec. 9 from the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan.

The re-supply vehicle is delivering six new lithium-ion batteries and adapter plates that will replace the nickel-hydrogen batteries currently used on the station to store electrical energy generated by the station’s solar arrays. These will be installed during a series of robotic operations and spacewalks between late December and mid-January.

The spacecraft also is bringing the Technology Education (TechEdSat-5) nanosatellite, which includes the Exo-Brake technology demonstration mission. The Exo-Brake technology is a tension-based, flexible braking device that could help bring small payloads back through Earth’s atmosphere unharmed, accurately de-orbiting through a series of adjustments to modulate drag. Exo-Brake deployment is targeted for early 2017.

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