Robotic arm fetches Japanese cargo ship at space station

By , Computerworld |  Science, robotics

An unmanned Japanese cargo spacecraft yesterday was plucked out of space by a robotic arm and attached to the International Space Station .

The cargo spacecraft, dubbed the H-II Transfer Vehicle, was launched a week ago on its maiden voyage from the from the Tanegashima, Japan, Space Center. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency spacecraft carried about five tons of supplies for the Japanese Kibo laboratory at the station.

The H-II arrived at the space station late Thursday afternoon, and Flight Engineers Nicole Stott, Robert Thirsk and Frank De Winne, part of the space station crew, teamed up to use the station's robotic arm to grab the craft as it hovered 30-feet from the station. The Canadarm 2 robotic arm pulled the cargo ship in and attached it to the station.

The cargo, which is being transferred onto the space station, includes several pieces of equipment for that will be used in experiments, such as the study of gases in the Earth's ozone layer.

The H-II Transfer Vehicle, which was designed and built in Japan, is about 30 feet long and about 14 feet in diameter.

The Canadarm 2 technology has been heavily used by astronauts on the station in recent months.

For example, the crew of the space shuttle Discovery used the robotic arm earlier this month to move replacement parts and supplies from the shuttle's cargo bay to the space station. They also used the arm to help them remove a spent ammonia tank from the outside of the space station and replace it with a new one.

And in July, three different robots, including Canadarm 2, were used to help the crew of the space shuttle Endeavour install the final pieces of a Japanese laboratory to the station. For the nearly 11 days Endeavour was docked with the space station, at least one, if not two, robots were at work almost every day.

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