Space Station Prepares for Busy November
The crew of the International Space Station is gearing up for a busy
November. On Nov. 12, the MRM2 (Russian
Mini-Research Module 2) is scheduled to dock at the space station, and four
days later, the space shuttle Atlantis launches for NASA's final 2009 mission
to the ISS.
The MRM2 will launch Nov. 10 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, powered by a Soyuz booster rocket. The research platform will dock directly to the top port of the Zvezda service module of the space station. The Russian module will serve as an additional docking port for Russian vehicles as well as an airlock for Russian-based spacewalks. NASA plans to televise the docking.
The Atlantis arrival will be all about spare parts for the station. With only six space shuttle trips remaining before the fleet is retired at the end of next year, NASA is turning its attention to helping the space station build up a store of replacement parts. Only the space shuttle vehicles are large enough to carry many of the big backup pieces of equipment into space.
"You'll see this theme in some of the flights that are going to come after ours as well," said Brian Smith, the lead space station flight director for the mission. "This flight is all about spares-basically, we're getting them up there while we still can."
The spares are going up on two platforms-called external logistics carriers, or ELCs-to be attached on either side of the station's truss, in hopes that wherever a failure happens, the necessary spare won't be too far away.
The ELCs carried up on Atlantis will contain two pump modules, two control moment gyroscopes, two nitrogen tank assemblies, an ammonia tank assembly, a high-pressure gas tank, a latching end effector for the station's robotic arm and a trailing umbilical system reel assembly for the railroad cart that allows the arm to move along the station's truss system.
There's also a power control unit, a plasma container unit, a cargo transportation container and a battery charge/discharge unit. In all, that's 27,250 pounds' worth of spares to keep the station going long after the shuttles retire.
Some of those spares will be used to replace failed components of the systems that provide the station power or keep it from overheating or tumbling through space.
"It was a long-term goal to have the full power production capability and all the international partners present and six-person crew capability," said Mike Sarafin, the lead shuttle flight director for the mission. "These are the spares that will allow us to utilize the investment that we've put in."
Much of the focus of the mission will be to pave the way for NASA's next trip to the space station in February. The space shuttle Endeavour is scheduled to deliver the Tranquility node with its attached cupola, a robotic control station with six windows around its sides and another in the center that provides a 360-degree view around the station.
For the Atlantis astronauts, the preparations for the Tranquility mode and its cupola mean routing connections and preparing the berthing port on the Harmony node that it will attach to.