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Japan's HTV3 berths with space station

Paul Sutherland, Feature writer
Jul 28, 2012, 7:00 UTC

Sen—A Japanese cargo ship carrying 3.5 tons of supplies successfully berthed with the International Space Station yesterday, six and a half days after it was launched.

NASA astronaut Joe Acaba swung the orbiting outpost's robotic arm Canadarm2 to grab hold of the HTV3 spacecraft at 12.23 UT when it was flying high over the Indian Ocean.

The space freighter, also known as Kounotori, meaning White Stork, was then drawn in to mate with the ISS's Harmony module where 16 bolts were connected and tightened to complete capture by 14.35 UT.

Acaba was assisted by fellow spaceman Aki Hoshide, of the Japanese space agency JAXA during the HTV's critical approach to the station. They watched from the Cupola viewing room while at Canadarm2's controls.

The unmanned space craft had earlier moved in to wait at two pre-planned points below the ISS as final checks were made. An onboard laser sensor fired beams at reflectors attached to the bottom of the ISS to deliver precise positional information.

Then, with both the ISS and HTV speeding around the Earth at 27,700 km per hour, the bus-sized freighter moved to a distance of 10 metres ready to be grappled by the robotic arm.

As the moment approached, a NASA mission controller told the astronauts: "It looks beautiful from here. We are go for HTV3 capture."

HTV3 arrived carrying fresh food and supplies for the Expedition 32 crew aboard the space station, an aquarium or Aquatic Habitat (AQH) for fish that will follow on the next missions, a JEM-Small Satellite Orbital Deployer (J-SSOD), five CubeSats and the winning science experiments of the YouTube SpaceLab competition.

This Kounotori is the third HTV mission to the ISS. HTV1 demonstrated the craft's autonomous and remotely-controlled rendezvous capabilities in 2009. It was followed by HTV2 in January 2011 which delivered 6.7 tons of supplies to the ISS.

HTV3 will remain berthed to the space station until September when, having been loaded with rubbish, it will burn up in a controlled descent through the atmosphere.

Today fresh attempts will be made to re-dock a Progress 47 supply ship which was undocked from the Pirs docking compartment on July 22. It failed in its first attempt to re-dock the following day due to a technical problem and has been sitting at a safe distance ever since.

Russian engineers are testing a new automated rendezvous system, called Kurs-NA, for possible use on future Russian spacecraft arriving at the station.

Note added 29 July 2012: The second attempt at redocking the Progress 47 was completely successful.