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The crew of the International Space Station -- working closely with controllers on the ground in Texas and Japan -- have pulled off a space-ops coup that has long-term implications for supplying the orbiting laboratory.One week to the day after it launched from the Tanegashima spaceport in southeast Japan, the ISS crew used their Canadian-built robotic arm to snare the H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV) from free drift 30 feet below them and plug it in to a common berthing mechanism on the Harmony pressurized node.NASA TVNicole Stott of NASA, the newest member of ISS Expedition 20, used the laptop robotic controls to monitor the HTV as it approached under control of engineers at the Tsukuba Space Center near Tokyo.NASA TVUsing its laser range-finder and in wireless communication with systems on the ISS, the HTV eased up to its "capture box" right on time after a seven-day checkout period in orbit.NASA TVInside the U.S. Destiny laboratory module Stott, European astronaut Frank de Winne, Canada's Bob Thirsk and Gennady Padalka of Russia, the Expedition 20 commander, monitored its approach carefully.NASA TVAs the HTV drew closer, the crew was able to get a closeup view of its grapple fixture with the video camera mounted in the end of the station arm.NASA TVOnce the HTV was in the proper position, and engineers in Tsukuba and Mission Control Center - Houston determined that all systems were go, the thrusters on the Japanese vehicle were shut down. That marked the beginning of a 99-second window for Stott to send the arm on a pre-programmed route to grapple the HTV as the station moved into orbital darkness over Romania, at an altitude of 225 miles.NASA TVLater, after all of the systems had checked out, Thirsk took over the controls and maneuvered the HTV to the Earth-facing common berthing mechanism on Harmony, where it was latched and bolted into place.NASA TV"Congratulations to the entire team," Stott radioed as the crew toasted their success with special drink bags of recycled water from the station system. "We had an amazing time doing this."Once leak checks are complete, the crew will start unloading the HTV cargo on Friday. Although it can hold more, for its first flight it carried 3.6 metric tons of pressurized cargo, and another 0.9 tons of unpressurized payload, as well as an extra reserve of fuel and batteries.The grapple-and-berth approach will be used many times in the future to resupply the ISS, particularly after the U.S. space shuttle fleet is retired. In addition to the HTV, both the SpaceX Dragon vehicle and the Orbital Sciences Cygnus under development as commercial resupply capsules will deliver their cargo the same way.
os99, HTV, ISS, grapple
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