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External payloads delivered to station by Japanese vessel

Posted: August 15, 2012

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The International Space Station's robotics systems, under manual and remote control by astronauts and ground controllers, have transferred a cache of experiments from a Japanese resupply craft to external platforms aboard the orbiting outpost.

The International Space Station's robot arm maneuvers the HTV external payloads pallet. Credit: NASA
The Japanese and U.S. experiments were launched July 21 aboard the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's H-2 Transfer Vehicle, an automated cargo freighter designed to ferry pressurized and exposed supplies, spare parts and experiments to the space station.

The barrel-shaped spacecraft, nicknamed Kounotori 3, reached the complex July 27, flying in formation below the station while astronauts unlimbered the lab's robotic arm to snare the HTV resupply craft from space.

Kounotori means "white stork" in Japanese.

The space station crew opened the hatch to the HTV's pressurized cargo module July 28 to begin unloading more than 7,000 pounds of equipment, including food and clothing, an aquatic habitat to study how microgravity impacts marine life, a remote-controlled Earth observation camera, a critical part for the lab's water regeneration system, and a Japanese cooling water recirculation pump, according to NASA.

The cargo craft also delivered five small CubeSat satellites and a Japanese-built deployer apparatus. The CubeSats will be released outside the space station beginning this fall.

Two payload packages mounted on an external platform inside the HTV required removal by the station's Canadian and Japanese robotics systems.

The Canadian and Japanese robot arms transferred the HTV's exposed pallet to a connecting port on the space station's Kibo laboratory Aug. 6. The outpost's Dextre robotic handyman, operating on commands from the ground, on Aug. 7 moved NASA's Space Communications and Navigation Testbed to its operating location on the space station truss.

Developed by NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, the SCAN Testbed payload includes three experimental next-generation radios capable of being updated with fresh software in flight.

Future space missions could use similar radios for communications and navigation functions. Ground controllers could install new software to alter the radio's capabilities, reducing the time and money needed to ensure spacecraft radios meet a mission's changing needs.

"The ability to change the operating characteristics of the radio's software after launch allows missions to change the way a radio communicates with ground controllers, and offers the flexibility to adapt to new science opportunities and increased data return," said a fact sheet posted on a NASA website.

A set of Japanese experiments was removed from the HTV pallet and placed on the Kibo laboratory's outdoor porch Aug. 9.

Consolidated inside a common package, the investigations will probe the plasma and lightning in Earth's atmosphere, collect data on inflatable space structures and robotics systems, and test commercial off-the-shelf HDTV video equipment in the harsh environment of space.

With its payloads placed on the space station, the empty cargo pallet was moved back into position inside the HTV resupply craft Aug. 10. The pallet slides inside the spacecraft on rail tracks.

Astronauts will pack the HTV's pressurized module with trash in the next few weeks before the ship departs the space station Sept. 6. The vehicle will be guided back into the atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean for a destructive re-entry.