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NASA reconfigures station for new space taxis

Irene Klotz, Spaceflight Correspondent
May 28, 2015, 0:38 UTC

Sen—NASA crossed off another task in an ongoing project to reconfigure the International Space Station so two new commercial space taxis will have places to park.

Following a trio of spacewalks earlier this year by astronauts aboard the orbital outpost, ground teams at NASA’s Mission Control Center in Houston, Texas, and the Canadian Space Agency’s operations center in Quebec on Wednesday remotely operated the station’s robotic arm to move the Leonardo Permanent Multipurpose Module from the Unity to the Tranquility connecting nodes.

“It all looked great,” station flight engineer Scott Kelly radioed to flight controllers after the 11-ton Leonardo was bolted into its new berthing port at 9:08 a.m. EDT (1308 UTC). The move took more than three hours.

The module was one of three pressurized containers built by the Italian Space Agency to carry cargo in the space shuttle’s payload bay. Leonardo was later modified and left attached to the station in 2011 to serve as a storage room. The 22- by 11-foot module has an internal volume of more than 2,400 cubic feet—enough room for 16 racks of equipment and supplies, plus storage bags.

Leonardo’s relocation sets the stage for another round of spacewalks later this year to install international docking adapters for SpaceX’s Dragon and Boeing’s CST-100 capsules.

One adapter will be installed at the berthing slip previously used by NASA's space shuttles, which were retired in 2011. The second docking system will be located at an adjacent hatch on the Harmony connecting node.

NASA hopes to break Russia’s monopoly on flying crew to the station before the end of 2017. SpaceX already flies a cargo version of Dragon and has completed the first of three test flights of its passenger system.

Boeing, which is competing for a cargo contract as well, plans to test fly its CST-100 spaceship in 2017, and quickly turn around to begin crewed flights by December 2017.

The first of the station’s two new International Docking Adapters is slated to arrive next month aboard a SpaceX Dragon cargo ship. The second adapter, also delivered aboard a Dragon capsule, is expected in December.