A Japanese rocket successfully blasted off early this morning (Jan. 22) on a vital mission bound for the International Space Station (ISS). The launcher carried the Kounotori2 – which means ‘White Stork’ in Japanese – cargo resupply vessel. Kounotori2, also dubbed HTV2, is stocked with over 3800 kilograms (8000 pounds) of crucial science experiments, research gear, food and provisions for the six person international crew living aboard the Earth orbiting outpost.
Liftoff of the unmanned H-IIB rocket from Launch Pad No. 2 at the Tanegashima Space Center occurred earlier today at 2:37:57 p.m. on January 22, local Japan Standard Time (12:37:57 a.m. EST), from a remote island rocket base located in southern Japan.
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Watch 2 Videos of the launch below. Especially be sure to view the Japanese version (interspersed with English) which captured dramatic rear-looking video of the receding Earth and its curvature and the separation of the Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) – during the ascent to orbit.
The launch was flawless in all respects. The Japanese Space Agency – JAXA – confirmed that the Kounotori2 cargo carrier separated from the launch vehicle as expected at about 15 minutes and 13 seconds after liftoff.
Blast off of the 186 foot tall rocket had been delayed two days by poor weather. By the time of Saturday’s launch, the weather had cleared with a wind speed of 8.3 meters/second from the north-west and the temperature was 10.6 degrees Celsius according to JAXA.
The H-IIB is a two-stage rocket powered by liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen with four strap-on solid rocket boosters (SRBs) powered by polybutadiene. The SRB’s were jettisoned as planned about two minutes into the flight (see video).
Rendezvous at the ISS is scheduled to take place on Jan. 27.
After the HTV2 arrives in close proximity, astronauts on board will manually dock the cargo ship to the station. Using the stations Canadian built robotic arm, known as Canadarm2, the Expedition 26 crew of Cady Coleman and Scott Kelly from the US and Paolo Nespoli from Italy will grapple HTV2 and berth it to the Earth-facing port on the Harmony module.
Japanese Space Agency – JAXA – HTV Launch Video. In Japanese – interspersed with English
Video Caption: The H-IIB Launch Vehicle No. 2 with the KOUNOTOR 2 (HTV 2) cargo transporter onboard launched from the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan at 2:37:57 p.m. on January 22, Sat., Japan Standard Time, (12:37:57 a.m. EST) and is bound for the International Space Station (ISS). KOUNOTORI 2 translates as ‘White Stork’ in Japanese.
HTV Launch with NASA Commentary
HTV2 weighs 16,061 kilograms (35,408 pounds) and measures 10 meters long by 4 meters wide (33 feet by 13 feet). The vehicle can deliver both internal and external cargo to the station. In addition to Japanese equipment, the freighter is also loaded with over 2200 kg of experiments and supplies from NASA and Canada including both pressurized and unpressurized items.
This was the second launch of the HTV cargo carrier which was developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). The maiden launch occurred in September 2009 and was a test flight to demonstrate the autonomous and remotely-controlled rendezvous capabilities while also delivering cargo and supplies to the ISS.
Japan expects to construct and launch about one HTV per year with the capability to ramp up production to two vehicles per year if necessary and if the Japanese government approves funding.
JAXA is evaluating the possibility to convert the HTV into a vehicle capable of flying humans to space.
China, the other Asian superpower, has already established a human spaceflight program.
China has successfully launched three manned capsules to space and is vigorously moving forward with plans to orbit a manned space station.
After the forced retirement of the Space Shuttle later this year, NASA will be completely dependent on commercial companies and foreign governments to launch all of its future cargo requirements to the ISS.