Tim Furniss/LONDON

The Space Shuttle Discovery is scheduled for launch from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida on 8 March on mission STS 102 to the International Space Station (ISS). It will be carrying a first Italian Multipurpose Logistics Module (MPLM), Leonardo.


The 11-day mission will also switch space station crews and include two EVAs. This, the eighth Shuttle mission to the ISS, is to unload cargo from the 6.4m (21ft) long Leonardo MPLM, including six racks for the Destiny laboratory module, attached to the station by the previous STS 98 mission.

The MPLM will be moved from the payload bay of Discovery, using the remote manipulator system robot arm, and docked to a port on the US Unity mode module. While attached to the ISS the module will be able to act as an additional pressurised module.

After its contents have been unloaded, the module will be returned to the payload bay for its return to Earth, loaded with other equipment and rubbish.

The Italian Space Agency has funded the development of three MPLMs in a programme separate from Italy's ISS funding as a member of the European Space Agency.

The other Alenia Spazio-built MPLM modules, likened to orbital removal vans, are named Raffaello and Donatello. The re-usable logistics carrier weighs 4,500kg (9,900lb) and is the primary delivery system for pressurised payloads to the ISS weighing up to 900kg.

It uses internal interfaces, including up to 16 equipment racks. Raffaello will be the next module to fly aboard STS 100/Atlantis in April.

In addition to the Destiny racks, Leonardo will also carry stowage platforms containing crew rotation, avionics and spares hardware, as well as crew health care system items, the ISS ergometer and a mobile servicing system robotic workstation.

Other Discovery payloads include a Spacehab Integrated Cargo Carrier and in-cabin payloads, such as a single string global positioning system miniature airborne receiver for evaluation.

A future suite of three of these GPS receivers may be added to the Shuttle fleet, to provide a fully-redundant replacement for existing TACAN systems and improve orbiter capabilities for orbit and entry navigation. The two EVAs will prepare the Unity docking port to receive Leonardo and to install hardware needed for Assembly flight 6A.

Source: Flight International