This will be something historical for the International Space Station (ISS). Hopefully, less than a month after the Japanese unmanned spacecraft, Kounotori.docks with the space station, another one of the European Space Agency (ESA) will be at the station. Called Johannes Kepler, the automated transfer vehicle (ATV) is named after the German astronomer and mathematician.
Kounotori is tentatively is slated for launch in about a fortnight ie on January 20 with its launch window remaining open till February 28. The date fixed for Johannes Kepler is February 15. It is the second ATV launch after Jules Verne which was launched on March 9,2008 and reentered the atmosphere on September 29,2008. As usual for Johannes Kepler, the rocket will be the Ariane 5 and the lift off will be from the European spaceport of Kourou.
Weighing 20,000 kgs--same as Jules Verne--Johannes Kepler will fly seven tonnes of experiments, fuel, water, food and other supples from the earth to the ISS. According to the ESA, when it arrives at the station, it will become a 22-cubic metre extension of the ISS, giving extra space for six astronauts and cosmonauts who form the permanent ISS crew.
ESA states whilst it is attached, apart from transferring cargo to the ISS, Johannes Kepler will get loaded up with solid and liquid wastes from the station. After about six months, it will undock, will execute two carefully executed manouvres which will place it in a trajectory that will result in it burning up harmlessly in the atmosphere over an uninhabitated area of the Pacific Ocean.
Wth two unmanned spacecraft at the ISS, it is ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM)'' guess that this historic event could perhaps turn into a moment to uncork the champagne bottle at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) which has always felt that manned missions to space were really of no value and the space shuttle was a flop. It is possible, that if both Kounotori and Johannes Kepler succeed, it will perhaps encourage JPL to campaign more strongly for unmanned interplanetary robotic missions and seek more funds for these projects.
Interesting to watch what happens.