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Space Station Crew Carries Out Early Dragon Capture


The SpaceX Dragon CRS-2 mission vessel rendezvoused with the International Space Station for robot arm capture early Sunday, successfully overcoming a post-launch thruster issue that slowed the arrival by a day.


SpaceX's Dragon resupply vessel captured by Space Station commander Kevin Ford early Sunday. The two spacecraft were flying 253 miles over northern Ukraine as the capsule was grappled with the station's Canadian built robot arm. Photo Credit: NASA TV.

Station commander Kevin Ford and flight engineer Tom Marshburn grappled the unpiloted capsule with the station's 58-foot-long Canadian-built robot arm at 5:31 a.m., EST, -- well ahead of the schedule the ISS mission management team anticipated on Saturday as the multinational membership cleared Dragon for the approach.

After grapple, NASA's Mission Control in Houston took over the operations of the robot arm for the berthing of the supply ship to the station's U.S. segment Harmony module. The berthing process got underway at 8:39 a.m. Dragon will remain attached until March 25.

“That was a brilliant capture,” radioed Kate Rubins, the spacecraft communicator in NASA’s Mission Control Center.

“It’s not where you start,” responded Ford. “It’s where you finish.You guys really finished this one on the mark."

The SpaceX Falcon 9/Dragon lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., at mid-morning Friday on the second mission under a $1.6 billion, 12 flight NASA Commercial Resupply Services contract awarded in late 2008. After orbital insertion, the spacecraft was unable to activate three of four thruster pods used to raise altitude and hold attitude during rendezvous activities.

Controllers at the company's Hawthorne, Calif., headquarters overcame a stuck check valve or blockage in the helium plumbing that pressurizes the nitrogen tetroxide oxidizer system for the thruster system later in the day. But the difficulties delayed the planned rendezvous and berthing from Saturday until Sunday.

The supply craft arrived with a 2,700-pound cargo, including the mass of protective packaging, the company reports. The deliveries include U.S., European and Japanese research gear as well as a pair of "grapple bars" that will be fastened to radiator panels outside the station during a future spacewalk.

Over the berthing period, the reusable CRS-2 capsule will be reloaded with just over 3,000 pounds of research gear and equipment in need of refurbishment as well as protective packaging. SpaceX water craft will be positioned in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja, Calif., to await the Dragon's parachute descent for recovery.

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