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Japanese cargo ship heading to space station

Irene Klotz, Spaceflight Correspondent
Aug 19, 2015, 16:57 UTC

Sen—A much-needed load of supplies is heading toward the International Space Station Wednesday following a successful launch from Japan’s Tanegashima Space Center.

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s fifth H-2 Transfer Vehicle (HTV), also known as Kounotori 5 (Japanese for “white stork,”), blasted off atop an H-2B rocket at 1150 UTC, following two delays to wait out poor weather.

“The launch vehicle flew smoothly, and, at about 14 minutes and 54 seconds after liftoff, the separation of the KOUNOTORI 5 was confirmed,” JAXA said in a statement.

The capsule carries more than 4,300 kilograms of equipment and cargo for the International Space Station. It is scheduled to reach the orbital outpost on Monday.

The cargo includes a new kitchen, a payload rack for Japan’s Kibo laboratory module, 14 small satellites for Planet Labs’ growing Earth-imaging constellation and an astrophysics telescope that will be mounted outside the station. The CALorimetric Electron Telescope (CALET) will scan for signs of dark matter and measure cosmic rays.

NASA, which operates the station in partnership with Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada, added extra food, water and other items aboard the HTV to replace supplies lost during the SpaceX Falcon 9 launch accident on June 28.

NASA likes to keep a six-month supply of food and other critical supplies aboard the station, but was down to about half that in some items following the loss of three cargo ships in eight months. The agency was still recovering from the loss of an Orbital ATK cargo ship in October when the Falcon 9 accident shut down its second resupply line.

Russia also lost a cargo shipment in April, but has since resumed flights.

“We’re in good shape right now, but if for some reason HTV didn’t get here, we get pretty low on certain consumables probably in late September, early October timeframe,” NASA astronaut Scott Kelly said during an inflight interview on Monday.

“I’m sure we would figure out ways to bridge the gap … We’ve been pretty good about dealing with those things, and I’m sure we would figure out a way around it, but it is a very important launch for us coming up,” Kelly said.

Orbital is planning to fly its next Cygnus cargo capsule in December aboard an Atlas 5 rocket purchased from United Launch Alliance, a partnership of Lockheed Martin and Boeing. The company is outfitting its Antares rocket with new Russian RD-181 engines and expects it to return to flight early next year. Last week, Orbital said it had purchased a second Atlas rocket ride to give NASA added flexibility to fly more cargo early in 2016.

SpaceX said it is not expected to return to flight before September at the earliest, and has a NASA cargo resupply run on its calendar for December.

NASA gear aboard Japan’s HTV mission includes filters for the station’s water supply, a Fluids Control and Pump Assembly that is part of the station’s system to recycle urine into potable water, parts for the station’s toilet, medical gear and spacesuit equipment.

JAXA Flight Engineer Kimiya Yui, who arrived at the station last month along with NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononeko, will use the station’s robotic crane to pluck the HTV capsule from orbit at about 1055 UTC on Monday. The capsule will be anchored to a berthing port on the station's Harmony connecting node. 

Japan’s last cargo run to the station was in August 2013. NASA has agreements with JAXA for two more HTV flights and is in discussions for additional missions, said NASA spokeswoman Stephanie Schierholz.