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March 02, 2012

European Space Station Supply Flight Delayed Due to Baggage Check

By Doug Mohney, Contributing Editor

The latest European space station supply flight has been delayed due to a problem that many earthbound frequent fliers run into: having to check bags.   Automated Transfer Vehicle 3 (ATV-3) Edoardo Amaldi is rolling back to the hanger for cargo inspection. Its scheduled March 9 launch date is now scrubbed.

During preflight checks of photographs taken while the ATV was closed up, engineers spotted two bags not correctly secured, reports Rather than launch with a couple of loose bags bouncing around the pressurized dry cargo section of the vehicle, the Ariane 5 with Amaldi on top is being rolled back to the hangar. Technicians will then go into the pressured section to properly secure a strap, and then button everything back up.

Loose bags might seem a bit amusing at first thought, but having them tossed around during a launch is no laughing matter. A loose bag flying about the cargo capsule could damage its own contents and/or the contents of other cargo within the pressurized vessel.

Estimates to rollback and repack are around five to six days, so another attempt at launch is likely to occur at the end of the month.

ATV-3 is to deliver more than four tons of cargo to the International Space Station (ISS), including fuel, oxygen, water, and dry cargo including food and equipment.  It will be lofted into orbit on an Ariane 5 ES from the French Guiana Space Port. 

ATV supply flights are part of the Europe's Space Agency's contribution to ISS operations. In addition to delivering supplies, the ATV uses its fuel and thrusters to reboost the ISS into a higher orbit. Two previous ATV missions successfully took in 2008 and 2011.

A minor delay in the ATV-3 launch has relatively little impact on space station operations. ISS already has more than enough supplies to continue operations thanks to last's year’s final shuttle mission loading up the facility with consumables and equipment. Meanwhile, a Russian Progress cargo freighter is scheduled for an April 20 launch from Baikonur Cosmodrome Kazakhstan.

SpaceX (News - Alert) is penciled in for a late April launch attempt to demonstrate its Falcon 9/Dragon combination and would be the first of two U.S. flagged vendors to provide commercial supply services to the space station. The COTS 2/3 flight should demonstrate the full-up Cargo Dragon spacecraft's ability to safely rendezvous and berth with ISS, clearing the way for SpaceX to start providing commercial (i.e. paid) cargo supply flights to the space station.

Edited by Rich Steeves

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