Japanese robo-ship arrives at Int'l Space Station
* Spaceship first of four poised to visit space station
* Vessel hauls up supplies, equipment and research gear
* Russian Progress capsule due to arrive Saturday
By Irene Klotz
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., Jan 27 (Reuters) - A robotic Japanese cargo ship reached the International Space Station on Thursday, the first of a quartet of spaceships due to arrive at the orbital outpost over the next month.
The ship, laden with supplies, science equipment and spare parts, is the second from Japan to dock at the station.
Its arrival boosted confidence that supply lines to the $100 billion outpost, a project of 16 nations, will remain fully operational after NASA retires its space shuttle fleet in about six months.
Japan's HTV-2 spacecraft, Europe's Automated Transfer Vehicles and Russian Progress capsules will become the station's lifelines after two or three more space shuttle flights.
The shuttle program is ending after 30 years due to high operating costs and to free up funds to develop U.S. spaceships that can travel beyond the station's orbit 220 miles (355 km) above Earth. Continued...