NASA Space Shuttle Atlantis has European, Russian flair

NASA space shuttle Atlantis set for its final run to International Space Station

ESA's European Robotic Arm
NASA's space shuttle Atlantis will deliver distinctly European technology to the International Space Station when it sets off into space this week. 

Atlantis, which is scheduled to blast off  Friday for a 12-day mission, will carry spare portions of the European Space Agency's Robotic Arm and the first Russian payloads to use the arm. 

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The European Robotic Arm (ERA) will be the second 'intelligent' robot arm for the International Space Station (ISS). The first, used extensively for ISS assembly for almost 10 years, is the venerable Canadian Canadarm-2. 

The second arm, for launch in 2012, will be based on Russia's Multipurpose Laboratory Module (MLM), from where it can 'walk' to other locations. The complete operational ERA will be launched in 2012 by a Proton rocket, attached to the MLM. 

Once complete the ERA will include two "dexterous hands," attaching the arm to the ISS and routing power and command links - two wrists, two limbs and an elbow joint, together with electronics and cameras. Both ends can act as either a hand or the base.  The ERA can maneuver around the ISS under its own control, hand-over-hand between base points. Astronauts can control it from inside or outside the ISS, the ESA says.

The ERA will be used to service the Russian segment of the ISS and to transfer small payloads directly to space via the MLM's special airlock, liberating astronauts from time-consuming, fatiguing and potentially hazardous tasks outside the ISS, according to the ESA. ERA's other spare parts can be delivered later on smaller, unmanned craft, if needed, the ESA says. 

The Shuttle's primary cargo is Russia's the 23ft, 17,147lb,  MRM-1 Mini Research MRM-1, with ERA's spare mid-section attached. Atlantis is also carrying the MLM airlock, a portable work platform and an MLM radiator. 

MRM-1 is about 23 feet long and weighs 17,147 pounds. It will be attached to the Earth-facing side of the Zarya module. The MLM, or Nauka, will be the last piece of the Russian ISS segment.  The European Robotic Arm, a portable external work platform, will be used to outfit the Russian Multipurpose Laboratory Module, which will be launched on a Russian rocket in December 2011, NASA stated. 

Russian and US cargo, including food containers, cargo transfer bags, spare parts, experiment hardware and medical supplies will be inside the MRM-1.

There are three spacewalks planned to stage spare components outside the station, including six spare batteries, a Ku-band antenna and spare parts for the Canadian Dextre robotic arm, NASA said. 

After Atlantis there are only two space shuttle launches planned.  But there have been changes there as NASA has decided to delay one of the shuttle launches. 

Space shuttle Discovery' mission currently should begin Sept. 16.  Its nine day mission will bring the Express Logistics Carrier 4 and other spare components to the ISS. 

The space shuttle Endeavour mission originally slated for July has been pushed off until November. NASA said the delay is to accommodate a new particle detector for an extended ISS operation.  The update to the particle detector should enable it to function through 2020, which NASA now says it will support the ISS. In his recent address to NASA this month President Obama said he wanted to extend ISS support at least five years beyond the current 2015 end date.

Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8  

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