Space Shuttle Atlantis was today successfully launched from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the United States. During the 10-day STS-115 mission the six crew members will install a second set of solar panels on the International Space Station – marking an important return to major Station assembly work.
Following nearly two weeks of rescheduled launch attempts, Atlantis lifted off from Kennedy's Launch Pad 39B at 17:15 CEST (15:15 UT) on Saturday 9 September. The STS-116 crew will arrive at the Space Station on Monday where they will be welcomed on board by the Expedition 13 crew, including ESA astronaut Thomas Reiter, a resident of the Station since his arrival with Space Shuttle Discovery in early July.
The days ahead will be very busy for both crews, with back to back activities around the installation of a second set of solar arrays on the Station. Once deployed, the 70-meter wingspan solar arrays will double the Station's ability to generate power from sunlight, paving the way the addition of new Station modules, including the European Columbus laboratory and Kibo, the Japanese Experiment Module.
During three spacewalks the astronauts will install a new 14-metre section of the Station's truss and deploy two solar wings. The two new wings are capable of generating enough power to meet the needs of 30 average homes.
The in-orbit operations during the STS-115 Shuttle mission will be keenly followed from the ground by Swedish ESA astronaut Christer Fuglesang. As a crew member of the next scheduled Shuttle mission, Fuglesang will participate in EVAs to continue Space Station construction work. The launch of Space Shuttle mission STS-116 is planned for December 2006.