Station crew captures Japanese HTV-2 cargo ship (UPDATED)

Editor's note...
  • Posted at 06:57 AM, 01/27/11: Station crew captures Japanese HTV-2 cargo ship
  • Updated at 11:10 AM, 01/27/11: HTV-2 docked to station
  • Updated at 07:20 PM, 01/27/11: Hatches opened
CBS News

An umanned Japanese cargo ship carrying 8,500 pounds of supplies, science gear and spare parts was plucked out of open space by the International Space Station's robot arm Thursday to complete a smooth automated rendezvous.

Arm operator Catherine "Cady" Coleman, working with Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli inside the station's multi-window cupola compartment, locked the station's arm onto the HTV-2 cargo ship "Kounotori" at 6:41 a.m. EST as the two spacecraft sailed 220 miles above the southern Indian Ocean.

"Houston, station, HTV capture is complete," Nespoli radioed.

"Great job, you guys, on the morning's work," called astronaut Megan McArthur from mission control in Houston. "Congratulations to all of you and congratulations to the HTV flight control team. Great work today."

"Megan, we have Kounotori in our grasp," Coleman replied. "It demonstrates what we can do when humans and robots work together. We look forward to bringing HTV-2 Kounotori aboard the International Space Station."

The International Space Station's robot arm, operated by astronaut Catherine "Cady" Coleman, locked onto the HTV-2 cargo craft as the two spacecraft sailed over Egypt. (Photo: NASA/Nespoli)

Nespoli then maneuvered the 17.5-ton HTV-2 to an Earth-facing docking port on the station's forward Harmony module where it was locked in place at 9:51 a.m. Hatches between the station and the cargo ship were opened ahead of schedule Thursday afternoon.

At the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, meanwhile, engineers readied an unmanned Russian Progress cargo ship for launch at 8:31 p.m. EST Thursday. Assuming an on-time liftoff, the Progress will dock at the Russian Pirs module Saturday around 9:40 p.m. The station crew then will prepare for the arrival of the shuttle Discovery, carrying a cargo storage module and additional supplies and equipment, at the end of the month.

The HTV-2, developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, as a contribution to the space station program, was launched Jan. 22 atop an H-2B rocket from the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan.

Unlike Russia's unmanned Progress supply ship and the European Space Agency's Automated Transfer Vehicle, the HTV can carry both pressurized and unpressurized cargo, including equipment too big to pass through the space station's hatches.

For Japan's second cargo flight, the pressurized section of the cargo ship was loaded with 6,455 pounds of equipment and supplies in six cargo racks, including food and crew provisioning. The pressurized section also carries Japan's Kobairo gradient heating furnace, a crystal growth research facility that will be moved into the Japanese Kibo module.

An unpressurized cargo bay just behind the pressurized section carries a pallet loaded with a spare flex hose rotary coupler for the station's ammonia coolant system radiators and a cargo container loaded with spare electronic components. The unpressurized cargo weighs 2,043 pounds.

The pallet will be extracted by the station's robot arm Feb. 1 and then maneuvered to the far end of the Japanese Kibo module on the left side of the station. A smaller Japanese robot arm then will lock on and move the pallet to an external porch used for Japanese experiments. The cargo pallet will be moved back to the HTV-2 later and re-inserted in its payload bay.

The cargo container and the flex hose rotary coupler, meanwhile, will be moved from the porch to the station's solar power truss by the station arm and a Canadian robotic attachment called the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator.

Once fully unloaded, the pressurized section of the HTV-2 will be loaded with trash and no-longer-needed equipment. The flight plan calls for Coleman to detach the spacecraft from the station on March 28. The next day, the HTV-2 will fall back into the atmosphere and burn up.