Russian Progress Cargo Ship Launch Failure Deals Setback to ISS

The Progress 65 cargo spaceship launched on time Thursday morning, Dec. 1, 2016 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Credit: NASA TV
The Progress 65 cargo spaceship launched on time Thursday morning, Dec. 1, 2016 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan but failed to reach orbit minutes later. Credit: NASA TV

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – An unmanned Russian Progress resupply ship bound for the International Space Station (ISS) was lost shortly after launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Thursday when its Soyuz booster suffered a catastrophic anomaly in the third stage, and the craft and its contents were totally destroyed.

The Russian launch failure deals somewhat of a setback to the ever ongoing efforts by all the space station partners to keep the orbiting outpost well stocked with critical supplies of food and provisions for the multinational six person crew and science experiments to carry out the research activities for which the station was assembled.

The three stage Soyuz-U rocket failed in flight around six and a half minutes after what had been an otherwise flawless nighttime liftoff from the Baikonur Cosmodrome at 9:51 a.m. EST (8:51 p.m. Baikonur time), Thursday, Dec. 1.

Telemetry from the Progress 65 vehicle, also known as Progress MS-04, stopped after 382 seconds of flight while soaring about 190 km over the southern Russian Republic of Tyva.

“The Russian space agency Roscosmos has confirmed a Progress cargo resupply spacecraft bound for the International Space Station and her six person crew has lost shortly after launch,” said NASA.

“According to preliminary information, the contingency took place at an altitude of about 190 km over remote and unpopulated mountainous area of the Republic of Tyva,” said Roscosmos in a statement.

The Progress vehicle burned up during the resulting and unplanned fiery plummet through the Earth’s atmosphere.

This was the second failure of a Russian Progress launch in the past two years. The last failure took place in April 2015 when the third stage separation failed – sending the vehicle spinning wildly out of control and destroying the Progress 59 freighter.

Per protocol, the Russian space agency Roscosmos has formed a state commission to investigate the accident, seek out the root cause and implement measures to prevent such failures in the future.

“The first few minutes of flight were normal, but Russian flight controllers reported telemetry data indicating a problem during third stage operation. The Russians have formed a State Commission and are the source for details on the specific failure cause,” NASA said.

Crew launches on a different version of the Soyuz rocket were delayed and put on hold several months following last year’s Progress 59 failure and accident investigation.

Despite the failure there was no immediate impact on the current Expedition 50 crew and life goes on.

“The loss of the cargo ship will not affect the normal operations of the ISS and the life of the station crew,” said Roscosmos.

“The spacecraft was not carrying any supplies critical for the United States Operating Segment (USOS) of the station,” NASA reported.

Currently there is a satisfactory level of supplies.

“Six crew members living aboard the space station are safe and have been informed of the mission’s status. Both the Russian and U.S. segments of the station continue to operate normally with onboard supplies at good levels.”

However the continued useful utilization of the million pound station is totally dependent on receiving a steady train of supplies from Earth – comprising Russian, US and Japanese cargo freighters launching multiple times per year.

The Progress 65 cargo freighter was jam packed with 2.6 tons of food, fuel, and supplies for the space station crew, including approximately 1,400 pounds of propellant, 112 pounds of oxygen, 925 pounds of water, and 2,750 pounds of spare parts, supplies and scientific experiment hardware.

The Russian Progress 62 spacecraft approaches the International Space Station on July 1, 2016.  Credits: NASA
The Russian Progress 62 spacecraft approaches the International Space Station on July 1, 2016. Credits: NASA

The Progress was carrying a few items from NASA but they are all replaceable, says NASA. The US items packed on board included spare parts for the station’s environmental control and life support system, research hardware, crew supplies and crew clothing.

Had all gone well, Progress 65 would have docked to the rear port of the space station’s Russian Zvezda Service Module at 11:43 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 3.

Japan is all set to launch the next cargo flight to the ISS on Friday, Dec. 9 when the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) HTV-6 resupply ship will blast off atop the H-II rocket.

The most recent US commercial cargo launch to the ISS took place on Oct. 17 with blastoff of the Orbital ATK Antares rocket from NASA Wallops in Virginia, which delivered the Cygnus OA-5 resupply freighter to orbit. It docked to the ISS on Oct 23.

The Orbital ATK Antares rocket topped with the Cygnus cargo spacecraft launches from Pad-0A, Monday, Oct. 17, 2016 at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Orbital ATK’s sixth contracted cargo resupply mission with NASA to the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer
The Orbital ATK Antares rocket topped with the Cygnus cargo spacecraft launches from Pad-0A, Monday, Oct. 17, 2016 at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Orbital ATK’s sixth contracted cargo resupply mission with NASA to the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer

The next US cargo launch could be either an Orbital ATK Cygnus launch atop a ULA Atlas V in March 2017 or a SpaceX Dragon launch perhaps in Jan 2017.

The US has also suffered ISS cargo launch failures from both of the commercial resupply providers; SpaceX on the Dragon CRS-7 mission in Jun 2015 and Orbital ATK on the Cygnus Orb-3 mission in October 2014.

First stage propulsion system at base of Orbital Sciences Antares rocket appears to explode moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer –
First stage propulsion system at base of Orbital Sciences Antares rocket appears to explode moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer –

The cargo ships function as a railroad to space and function as the lifeline to keep the station continuously crewed and functioning. Without periodic resupply by visiting vehicles from the partner nations the ISS cannot continue to operate.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Space Trucks! A Pictorial History Of These Mighty Machines

Cargo resupply ships are vital for space exploration. These days they bring food, experiments and equipment to astronauts on the International Space Station. And in recent years, it hasn’t just been government agencies sending these things up; SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft and (just this week) Orbital Sciences’ Cygnus spacecraft brought up cargo of their own to station in recent months.

NASA just published a brief timeline of (real-life) cargo spacecraft, so we thought we’d adapt that information in pictorial form. Here are some of the prominent members of that elite group. Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments.

Dragon in orbit during the CRS-2 mission. Credit: NASA/CSA/Chris Hadfield
SpaceX’s Dragon in orbit during the CRS-2 mission. It was the first commercial spacecraft to resupply the space station, and since 2012 has completed resupply missions. Credit: NASA/CSA/Chris Hadfield
Space shuttle Discovery heads to space after lifting off from Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to begin its final flight to the International Space Station on the STS-133 mission. The shuttle was NASA’s main human spacecraft between 1981 and 2011. Credit: NASA
Progress 51 on final approach to the International Space Station. The stuck antenna is visible below the crosshairs. Credit: NASA TV (screencap)
Progress 51 on final approach to the International Space Station. The Russians have been flying versions of this cargo spacecraft since 1978. Credit: NASA TV (screencap)
JAXA's H-II Transfer Vehicle during a mission in July 2012. The first demonstration flight took place in 2009. Credit: NASA
JAXA’s H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV) during a mission in July 2012. The first demonstration flight took place in 2009. Credit: NASA


The ATV Johannes Kepler docked at the International Space Station. Credit: NASA
The ATV Johannes Kepler docked at the International Space Station. Versions of this spacecraft have flown since 2008. Credit: NASA
A line drawing of the TKS (Transportnyi Korabl’ Snabzheniia, or Transport Supply Spacecraft). It was intended to send crew and cargo together in one flight, but delays and a change in program priorities never allowed it to achieve that. According to NASA, versions of TKS (under the Cosmos designation) flew to the Salyut 6 and Salyut 7 space station. The cargo part of the spacecraft was also used for Russian base modules in the Mir space station and International Space Station. Credit: NASA/Wikimedia Commons
A line drawing of the TKS (Transportnyi Korabl’ Snabzheniia, or Transport Supply Spacecraft). It was intended to send crew and cargo together in one flight, but delays and a change in program priorities never allowed it to achieve that. According to NASA, versions of TKS (under the Cosmos designation) flew to the Salyut 6 and Salyut 7 space station. The cargo part of the spacecraft was also used for Russian base modules in the Mir space station and International Space Station. Credit: NASA/Wikimedia Commons

Japan’s Trash-laden HTV-2 Undocks from ISS


Japan’s HTV-2 Kounotori resupply ship undocked from the International Space Station at 15.45 GMT on March 28, and will burn up in Earth’s atmosphere sometime early Wednesday March 31. Back in January, the craft brought five metric tons of equipment and supplies to the station, but now it is loaded with trash and unneeded equipment and packing materials. Most of the HTV will likely disintegrate as it passes through the atmosphere, but any pieces left over will find a watery grave in a remote area in the Central Pacific. But sensors on board the HTV-2 will provide data on how the craft behaves during its fiery demise.

The Re-entry Breakup Recorder (REBR) will record temperature, acceleration, rotational rate and other data.

The second HTV from Japan arrived at the ISS on January 27 carrying its cargo of food, water supplies, and equipment. Japan expects to send another seven cargo ships to the station by 2015, with the next one scheduled to arrive in January 2012.

The ISS crew grappled HTV-2 with the Canadarm 2, undocked it from the station and then maneuvered the HTV into a release position about 30 feet below the station. The Space Station Integration and Promotion Center in Tsukuba, Japan was able to handle the commands to activate and check out the freighter’s guidance, navigation and control systems. Because of the March 11 earthquake in Japan, controls of the HTV and Japan’s Kibo laboratory was temporarily handed over to NASA in Houston, but the center is now fully restored for full commanding, telemetry and voice capabilities for the ISS.

The cargo ship will enter the atmosphere on Wednesday at 03.09 GMT, and any remaining fragments will fall into the Pacific Ocean 31 minutes later.

So long Konotori, and we thank you.

No-go for ‘Fly About’ Photo-Op at Space Station


The international partners have decided against an historic ‘fly-about’ of the International Space Station, which would have provided one-of-a-kind images of the nearly completed ISS with space shuttle Discovery and an assortment of vehicles from the different participating space agencies docked to the station.

“This morning, our Russian colleagues, after doing their own independent review processes … have determined that they are not in position to recommend doing the fly about, because this particular vehicle is what they consider a new vehicle, the Series 700 vehicle, which is in its maiden flight,” said Kenneth Todd, a manager for Mission Integration and Operations at NASA, speaking at a mission briefing this morning.

The Russians felt they didn’t have the time or opportunity to fully understand, review and work through all the risks of the request of flying the Soyuz around the ISS, an idea which was presented only recently, and after the new Soyuz had already launched to orbit.

“From a MMT perspective, we knew it was critical for all partners to go through their processes,” Todd said. “It wasn’t necessarily what we were hoping to get back, but at the same point I applaud the Russians for doing the right thing, for not disregarding their own processes and making sure they do their own due diligence the way they should. I accepted the recommendation.”

Mission Control in Houston radioed up to ISS commander Scott Kelly and STS-133 Commander Steve Lindsey that the possible Soyuz fly about was a no-go, even though mission managers had already approved an extra day extension of the shuttle mission.

“We’ll now use that extra day for transfer work between the PMM (Permanent Multipurpose Module) and the ISS, to leave the station and crew in the best possible shape when Discovery undocks.” said Capcom Stan Love. “The fly about will not happen during this flight.”

The fly-about –- only proposed about two weeks ago — would have had cosmonauts Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka along with Kelly to undock from the Russian Poisk module in the Soyuz TMA-01M spacecraft, back away from the ISS so they could show the ISS in its nearly completed configuration, with the shuttle attached, along with the Russian Progress and Soyuz, the European ATV and the Japanese HTV-1.
Todd said the images would not only be historic from an aesthetic perspective, but also provide valuable engineering views and data.

“There are multiple reasons this was going to be a good thing, to do this photo documentation,” he said. “Everytime we do one of these things we learn a lot, and we get a lot of good data about our ability to do this type of function, not just on our side but on the Russian side. I don’t see our review of this as wasted time or effort, and if we ever need to do this in the future, we will have to assess that at the time.”

Todd added that they should be able to get most of the images and data they were hoping for when the shuttle undocks and departs from the ISS next week – save for the historic aspect of having a shuttle docked to the station, along with all the other visiting vehicles.

Image above: In between the Soyuz TMA-20 spacecraft and the space shuttle Discovery, the Permanent Multipurpose Module, attached to the station's robotic arm, is installed to the Earth-facing port of the Unity module. Image credit: NASA TV

Earlier today, the crews of STS-133 and the space station successfully installed the Leonardo Permanent Multipurpose Module, essentially storage space (a “float-in” closet – which has also been referred to as a potential Man-cave) which includes supplies. Also tucked inside is Robonaut-2, the first human-like robot to serve on board the space station.

Discovery’s landing is currently set for 11:36 am EST on Tuesday, March 8, 2011.

Spectacular ATV Kepler Launch Photo Captured from Orbiting ISS


Have you ever seen a space launch from orbit ?

Check out the spectacular launch photo (above) of the Johannes Kepler ATV streaking skyward atop an Ariane 5 rocket as captured by astronaut Paolo Nespoli from his unparalleled vantage point looking out the windows aboard the International Space Station (ISS), in orbit some 350 km above Earth.

The launch photo shows the rising exhaust trail from the rocket just minutes after blast off of the Ariane booster on Feb. 16 from the ESA rocket base in Kourou, French Guiana, South America. The rocket was still on a vertical ascent trajectory to orbit. Additional launch photos below from space and Earth.

Photo captured on 16 February 2011 from the real-time video from the Ariane 5 launcher during the flight V200 during the time of jettisoning the boosters.

The photo vividly illustrates the maturity of the European space effort since the launch base, Ariane booster rocket, Kepler payload and astronaut Nespoli all stem from Europe and are crucial to the future life of the ISS.

Ariane 5 rocket at the Launch pad at Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana with Johannes Kepler ATV bolted on top prior to Feb. 16 blast off.

Kepler is set to dock at the ISS on Feb. 24 and an on time arrival is essential because of an impending orbital traffic jam.

Space Shuttle Discovery is due to link up with the ISS just six hous after Kepler if the orbiter launches according to schedule on Feb. 22.

Everything is nominal with Kepler’s spacecraft systems and orbital performance at this time say European Space Agency (ESA) officials, including the deployment of ATV’s four large solar wings.

Ariane 5 liftoff with Johannes Kepler ATV

The ATV, or Automated Transfer Vehicle, is a European built resupply vessel designed to transport essential cargo and provisions to the ISS. It is Europe’s contribution to stocking up the ISS.

Kepler is carrying carries more than seven metric tons of supplies and cargo for the ISS and will be used to reboost the outpost to a higher orbit during its planned four month mission.

“ATV is a truly European spacecraft. Flying it requires experts from ESA, partner agencies and industry across half a dozen countries,” said ESA’s Bob Chesson, Head of the Human Spaceflight Operations Department.

“Getting it built, into orbit and operating it in flight to docking requires a lot of hard work and dedication from hundreds of people.”

The ATV is named after Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), the German astronomer and mathematician who is best known for discovering the laws of planetary motion. NASA also named its powerful new planet hunting space telescope after Kepler, which recently discovered the first earth sized planets orbiting inside the habitable zone.

After the shuttle is forcibly retired later this year in 2011, the very survival and continued use of the ISS will be completely dependent on a steady train of cargo and payloads lofted by unmanned resupply vessels including the ATV from Europe, HTV from Japan, Progress from Russia and commercial carriers such as SpaceX and Orbital Sciences.

Photos of Ariane rockets rising exhaust trail from Feb. 16 ATV launch photographed from the ISS. Credits: ESA/ NASA

European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Paolo Nespoli, Expedition 26 flight engineer, conducts a test run with the French/CNES neuroscientific research experiment 3D-Space (SAP) in the Columbus laboratory of the International Space Station.

NASA Weighs Risks of Unique Photo-Op at Space Station


If all goes well and space shuttle Discovery arrives at the International Space Station the end of February, there will be a distinctive configuration: all the international partners will have a vehicle docked to the completed ISS. With the shuttle program about to retire, this configuration will be unique enough – this is the only time it will happen during the shuttle program — that NASA is considering putting three cosmonauts/astronauts in one of the Soyuz capsules that are docked to the station, have them undock and fly around to take pictures of the entire complex.

The Soyuz could photograph the station, showing the ISS in its final, completed configuration, with the shuttle attached, along with the Russian Progress and Soyuz, the European ATV and the Japanese HTV-1.

NASA managers, engineers and contractors are meeting today, Feb. 18 in a Flight Readiness Review to discuss the photo op. Of course, the Russian space agency would have to go along with the idea, as the task would not be insignificant.

Anytime a spacecraft undocks, there is the possibility of a problem or malfunction, and with people involved, the problems multiply fairly quickly. If for some reason the crew could not re-dock, they would have to deorbit and return to Earth, and the ISS crew would all of a sudden be reduced from six to three. Of course, the shuttle crew would be there, but their stay would be limited.

If the plans gets the OK, the crew doing the photo-op mission would ber Alexander Kaleri, Oleg Skripochka and Expedition 26 commander Scott Kelly.

Atlantis undocks after its first visit at Mir. Credit: Roscosmos/NASA

But you have to admit, the pictures and videos would be spectacular, and as things stand now, this would be the one and only chance to get a picture like this, a sort of family photo of the station and all the vehicles that support it.

The feat is not without precedence, however. The Russians took a similar photo on July 4, 1995, when the shuttle Atlantis was docked to the Mir space station, the first time a shuttle visited the Russian space station. Just before Atlantis undocked to return home, cosmonauts Anatoly Solovyev and Nikolai Budarin undocked in a Soyuz spacecraft and photographed the shuttle’s departure from a distance of about 300 feet.
There was a computer problem during the maneuver, however, and the cosmonauts had to dock manually and everything turned out just fine. And the picture was great, too.

The NASA Twitter feed reporting from today’s FRR meeting said the decision to do the photo op will probably not be made until during the STS-133 mission. NASA management is also deciding today when the Discovery mission will actually launch – right now it is scheduled for February 24, 2011 but they are weighing waiting until February 25, as the ATV Johnnes Kepler will arrive at the ISS on the 24th about 6 hours before the shuttle is scheduled to launch. If there were any problems with the ATV, the shuttle might have to stand down.

Japans White Stork Kounotori Grappled and Nested at Space Station: Video,Photo Album


Japans critical new resupply spaceship – nicknamed Kounotori2, (HTV2) – was successfully berthed today (Jan. 27) at the International Space Station (ISS). Kounotori2 – which translates as ‘White Stork’ in Japanese – was grappled by the ISS crew and then manually nested to an Earth facing docking port on the Harmony module.

Kounotori2 was launched aboard a Japanese H-IIB rocket from the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan at 12:37 a.m. (2:27 p.m. Japan time) on Jan. 22 to begin a five day orbital chase of the station.

View the Video and a Photo album below of the rendezvous and docking sequence

The two ships became one as Astronaut Cady Coleman grappled the free flying ‘White Stork’ at 6:41 a.m. EST with the stations robotic arm while the vessels were flying in formation about 220 miles above the south Indian Ocean in an easterly direction.

“Grapple completed, Kounotori is grappled!”
Kounotori2 was grappled by ISS crewmate Cady Coleman at 6:41 a.m. EST with the stations robotic arm while flying about 220 miles above the south Indian Ocean. ISS Tweet and Twitpic Credit: NASA/Paolo Nespoli

After an automatic rendezvous early this morning, the unmanned HTV2 cargo carrier slowly approached the space station from below to a series of ever closer hold points- 250 m, 30 m and 10 m.

Mission controllers on Earth carefully maneuvered the 35,000 pound ship to the final capture distance of about 33 feet (10 meters). The HTV thrusters were disabled and it was placed into ‘free drift’ mode.

ISS astronauts Paolo Nespoli, Cady Coleman and Commander Mark Kelly crew monitored the approach from inside the ISS. The crew was deftly working at the controls of the robotics work station of the Cupola Observation dome.

The unpiloted Japanese Kounotori2 H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV2) is about to be attached to the Earth-facing port of the Harmony module by the station’s robotic arm. Credit: NASA TV

Finally, Coleman gently grabbed the ‘White Stork’ with the 58 foot long Space Station Robotic arm, built and contributed by Canada.

“Grapple completed, Kounotori is grappled!” tweeted and twitpiced Paolo Nespoli from the ISS.

“This demonstrates what we can do when humans and robots work together,” radioed Cady Coleman.”We look forward to bringing HTV 2 – Kounotori – aboard the International Space Station.”

Video caption: Japanese Cargo Craft Arrives at ISS.
From: NASAtelevision | January 27, 2011
An unpiloted Japanese resupply ship, the “Kounotori”2 H-2B Transfer Vehicle (HTV2 ), was captured and berthed to the Earth-facing port of the Harmony module of the International Space Station Jan. 27, 2011. The berthing took place after an automated five-day flight following its launch on the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s H-2B rocket Jan. 22 from the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan. The ‘Kounotori’, which means “white stork” in Japanese, is loaded with more than four tons of supplies and spare parts for the six crew members on the orbital laboratory. Expedition 26 Flight Engineers Cady Coleman and Paolo Nespoli were at the controls of the robotic work station in the space station’s Cupola module to maneuver the Canadarm2 robotic arm for the grapple and berthing of the HTV2, which will remain at the orbital outpost until the end of March

Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli had the honor of driving Kounotori2 to a hard dock at the station. The attachment was completed at 9:51 a.m. EST after Kelly inspected the docking mechanism and confirmed it was clear of debris and ready. 16 bolts firmly latched the cargo freighter into place a few hours later.

The crew will open the hatch to Kounotori2 on Friday, (Jan. 28) at about 7:30 a.m. This is only the second flight of the Kounotori. The barrel shaped vehicle is coated with 57 solar panels.

HTV-2, we are ready for you! HTV-2, siamo pronti per te! ISS Tweet and Twitpic Credit: NASA/Paolo Nespoli

Kounotori2 is loaded with over 4 tons of pressurized and unpressurized cargo, including science experiments, research gear, space parts, clothing, food and water and other provisions from Japan, NASA and Canada.

HTV2 will remain docked at the ISS for about two months until late March. During that time the ISS crew will retrieve all the equipment and supplies for transfer to locations both inside and outside the ISS.

Using the Canadian robotic arm and Dextre robot, a pallet loaded with large spare parts for the station will be extracted from a slot on the side of the cargo ship robot and attached to an experiment platform outside the Japanese Kibo module.

The White Stork “ Kounotori’ flying high above the Nile river, Egypt as it is about to be grappled by the ISS crew with the station’s robotic arm on Jan. 27, 2011. Credit: NASA TV

On Feb. 18, the ISS crew will move the HTV from the Earth facing port. They will relocate it 180 degrees to the other side of the Harmony module to the space facing zenith port. This maneuver is required to provide enough clearance for Space Shuttle Discovery so that the orbiter can also safely dock at the Harmony module in late February. Discovery is set to launch on Feb. 24.

The HTV2 docking marks the start of an extremely busy time of orbital comings and goings at the ISS.

A Russian Progress resupply ship launches later today, at 8:31 p.m. EST. Following a two day chase, the Progress will dock on Saturday night (Jan. 29) at 9:39 p.m. and deliver over 6000 pounds of cargo to the station. Watch NASA TV

The European ATV cargo ship – named ‘Johannes Kepler – blasts off on Feb. 15.

HTV2 Rendezvous & Docking Photo Album: Jan 27, 2011
All photos Credit NASA and NASA TV

ISS astronauts Cady Coleman and Paolo Nespoli work inside the Cupola robotics work station. They grappled the free flying White Stork 'Kounotori' for attachment to the ISS today, Jan. 27, 2011. ISS Twitpic Credit: NASA/ESA

Japan blasts the White Stork Kounotori to Space Station


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.

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

HTV1 in flight to the ISS. The HTV, or KOUNOTORI, is an unmanned cargo transporter to be launched by the H-IIB launch vehicle. It is designed to deliver up to six tons of supplies including food, clothes, and experiment devices to the ISS in orbit at an altitude of about 400 kilometers and return with spent equipment, used clothing, and other waste material. Credit: NASA
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.

The H-II Transfer Vehicle 2 (Kounotori 2) during media day at the JAXA Tanegashima Space Center, Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan on Nov. 25, 2010. Vehicle is fully assembled. Credit: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

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.

More HTV 2 launch and launch processing photos below from JAXA

ISS Canadarm2 Grabs Resupply Ship

In a true display of international cooperation, American flight engineer Nicole Stott, using Canada’s Canadarm2, captured the Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV), with help from Belgium’s Frank DeWinne and Canada’s Robert Thirsk, under the direction of Russian ISS commander Gennady Padalka. The unpiloted HTV arrived at the International Space Station Thursday and later was attached to the Harmony node at 6:26 p.m. EDT. The HTV launched on Sept. 10, and took seven days to reach the ISS so controllers could run various tests and demonstrations on its maiden voyage.

“We had an amazing time doing this,” said Stott, “and we’re so happy to have this beautiful vehicle here. We look very much forward to going in tomorrow and finding all the supplies that I’m sure you’ve stored there for us.” The crew then offered a toast to the new vehicle with their recycled water drink bags.

Stott only had 99 seconds to latch onto the cargo ship before it moved past the station and into another orbit. It came to with nine meters (30 feet) away from the lab before going into free drift so it could be grabbed by the arm.

The crew will open up the HTV on Friday afternoon.

The HTV can bring up to six tons of supplies to the ISS, and will be used to dispose of spent equipment, used clothing, and other waste material when it later undocks and burns up the Earth’s atmosphere during re-entry.

The success of the HTV is crucial for station re-supply, especially when the space shuttle is retired.

“After the space shuttle starts to fade away, we will take over responsibility to bring stuff up to the space station. We’re really looking forward to the success of this mission,” Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi, who is scheduled to launch to the ISS in December, said before HTV-1’s arrival.

Source: NASA