Cargo spaceship meets the catcher in the sky
If the first launch of Japan’s new heavy-lifting rocket passes without incident this month, the residents of the International Space Station will soon be taking delivery of food, water, some spanking new laptops, a robot arm and a couple of Earth-observing experiments. Business as usual, you might think, except that the way this particular cargo gets to its destination is subtly different to its predecessors.
Unlike previous uncrewed cargo-carrying craft, which dock automatically or under human control, the HTV stops dead alongside the ISS when its retro rockets fire and it is grabbed by the space station’s giant robot arm. Then the arm pulls the HTV slowly but surely into the docking port on the US Harmony module.
“This will be our first free-flier capture from the space station,” says Dana Weigel, lead flight director for the ISS at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
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