The International Space Station’s Permanent Multipurpose Module was detached and moved by the main robotic arm to another place on the orbiting laboratory yesterday.
This delicate operation required moving and rotating the 10-tonne Leonardo module from the Unity node to the Tranquility node.
NASA astronauts Terry Virts and Scott Kelly finished unbolting the module, closed the hatch and checked for leaks before the move. They will reopen the hatch at its new location on Tranquility after more leak checks.
The change is part of a long line of tasks to allow the Station to berth more visiting spacecraft – Leonardo’s move frees a docking port. Astronauts will install international docking adapters later this year during spacewalks to welcome new types of vessels for astronauts and cargo.
The 16 m-long robot arm was commanded from Earth by mission controllers in Quebec, Canada and Houston, USA, during the three-hour operation.
Leonardo was built and designed by Italy’s ASI space agency to transport cargo and equipment to the Space Station inside NASA’s Space Shuttle. Modified to improve its shielding and visibility to visiting craft, it was attached permanently to the Station in 2011 after visiting the outpost seven times.
Leonardo is used for storing cargo bags, spare parts and food. One cargo rack is reserved for astronauts to use as a personal locker for their clothes, personal hygiene material and other belongings.
In exchange for supplying Leonardo, NASA agreed that ASI could send astronauts to the Station. One of these flights is now being filled by ESA’s Samantha Cristoforetti.
The crew might need some time to reorient themselves with the new layout. One of the jobs for the remodelling is to stick new signs on the module’s walls to reflect the new arrangement.