Staff writer

Two Japanese satellites named after the stars Orihime and Hikoboshi will perform a cosmic dance in orbit — and the world’s first unmanned satellite rendezvous — today coinciding with the Tanabata, or Star Festival.

The folk legend behind the festival says Orihime and Hikoboshi — known as Vega and Altair in most parts of the world — are lovers who were banished to opposite sides of the firmament as punishment by the gods and are permitted to meet only once a year on the seventh night of the seventh lunar month.

Today’s tryst in space will take place between the man-made satellites at an altitude of 550 km, employing cutting-edge technology. The Orihime and Hikoboshi satellites are actually the two components that form the Engineering Test Satellite VII, a craft launched in November by the National Space Development Agency to carry out experiments to facilitate construction of a space station.

After NASDA scientists at the Tsukuba Space Center separate the Satellite VII at around 7 p.m. by remote control, the two craft will fly in tandem for 15 minutes, maintaining a distance of 2 meters.

Employing preprogrammed computer commands and visual sensors, the Hikoboshi, while flying around the Earth at a speed of 27,000 kph, will make advances toward the Orihime and ultimately dock with it by using special latches.

Satellite docking experiments have so far relied on humans to physically manipulate the linkups. The data collected from the “galactic love affair” will be applied to developing robot-controlled docking techniques vital to the assembly of the International Space Station, a cosmic civil engineering project with 16 participating countries.

The 30-minute maneuver will be broadcast on the World Wide Web at http://www.nasda.go.jp/

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