Monday, January 24, 2011

MDA and the H-II Transfer Vehicle

The unmanned Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) designed H-II transfer vehicle (actually a spacecraft called Kounotori 2 or "white stork"), loaded up with over four tons of supplies for the International Space Station (ISS), is presently scheduled to dock with the ISS on Thursday.

That docking procedure will require more than a little help from MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) and their iconic CanadArm2.

This is because the Japanese spacecraft does not contain the complex docking and approach systems possessed by the Progress spacecraft (currently used by Russia to bring supplies to the station) or the soon to be retired US space shuttles (which together have brought the majority of parts and supplies to the ISS until now) or even the European Space Agency (ESA) built Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV).
H-II transfer vehicle approaching the ISS.
Instead, the intent is to fly the module just close enough to the station to allow capture by the Canadarm2, which will then pull it to a berthing port on the ISS Harmony module where the supplies can be unloaded.

This is quite similar to the methodology expected to be used with the Orbital Sciences Corporation (Orbital) designed Cygnus cargo delivery spacecraft as described in my January 18th, 2011 post "MDA and the Cygnus Cargo Spacecraft."

MDA has exercised an option in a contract with Orbital for additional robotic units to assist in the capture and mating of the Cygnus spacecraft to the ISS.

Robots are important additions to the ISS these days. According to Wikipedia:
The station received a second robotic arm during STS-124, the Japanese Experiment Module Remote Manipulator System (JEM-RMS). The JEM-RMS will be primarily used to service the JEM Exposed Facility. A third robotic arm, the European Robotic Arm (ERA) is scheduled to launch alongside the Russian-built Multipurpose Laboratory Module during December 2011.

Connected to Pirs, the ISS also has two Strela cargo cranes. One of the cranes can be extended to reach the end of Zarya, the other can extend to the opposite site and reach the end of Zvezda. The first crane was assembled in space during STS-96 and STS-101. The second crane was launched alongside Pirs itself.
The CanadArm2 is part of the ISS Mobile Servicing System (MSS), which also includes the Mobile Remote Servicer Base System (MBS) and the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator (DEXTRE).

Not Robonaut II.
At least one other robot is scheduled to travel to the ISS.

Robonaut II, a collaboration between the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and automaker General Motors, will launch aboard the last mission of the much delayed space shuttle Discovery (STS-133) during it's next launch window which begins February 24th.

As outlined in my April 17th, 2010 post "Robot Wars," Robonaut II bears more than a passing resemblance to the Stig, secretive race car driver in the BBC television program Top Gear.

There's even an official justification for the resemblance. This specific robot is designed not only to look like a human but also to work like one.

As for the Japanese "white stork," after a two month stay the HTV-2 will then be loaded with waste materials (such as used experiment equipment and clothes) and separated from the ISS for de-orbit and destruction during atmospheric re-entry.

In other words, konnichiwa (hello) and sayonara (goodbye), Kounotori 2.

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