Japanese robotic cargo ship docks at the ISS

A robotic Japanese cargo ship successfully arrived at the International Space Station Saturday (September 28) along with more than 4 tons of supplies, including new batteries for the outpost’s solar power grid and other technologies that will help astronauts conduct more experiments and repairs on the ISS.

The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) cargo spacecraft initially launched at 12:05 p.m. EDT September 24 (1:05 a.m. September 25 Japan standard time) from the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) HTV-8 cargo ship is captured by a robotic arm at the International Space Station on Sept. 28, 2019, to deliver more than 4 tons of supplies to the orbiting laboratory.
Source: NASA

The JAXA HTV-8 cargo ship then docked to the space station at 7:12 a.m. EDT (1112 GMT), where it was captured by a robotic arm wielded by NASA astronaut Christina Koch inside the orbiting lab. The station and HTV-8, also known as Kounotori 8 (Kounotori means “white stork” in Japanese), were soaring 262 miles (422 kilometers) over Angola in southern Africa at the time. 

NASA announced in a blog post that ground controllers successfully installed the Kounotori 8 H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV-8) to the Earth-facing port of the International Space Station’s Harmony module at 10:09 a.m. EDT.

“What you all have done is a testament to what we can accomplish when international teams work together towards a common goal,” Koch radioed to NASA’s Mission Control in Houston and flight controllers at JAXA’s Tsukuba Space Center in Japan.

“We’re honored to have Kounotori on board, and look forward to a successful and productive mission together.”

September 28, 2019: International Space Station Configuration. Five spaceships are attached to the space station including Japan’s HTV-8 cargo craft with Russia’s Progress 73 resupply ship and Soyuz MS-12, MS-13 and MS-15 crew ships.
Source: NASA

Using the International Space Station’s robotic arm, Canadarm2, Expedition 60 Flight Engineer Christina Koch of NASA, backed up by her NASA crewmate Andrew Morgan, operated the station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm from the station’s roof to capture the 12-ton spacecraft as it approached from below. Flight Engineer Luca Parmitano of ESA (European Space Agency) monitored HTV-8 systems during its approach to the station.

 JAXA launched the HTV-8 spacecraft on an H-IIB rocket from the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan on Sept. 24.

The HTV-8 is loaded with more than four tons of supplies, spare parts and experiment hardware for the crew aboard the orbiting laboratory.

The craft delivered six new lithium-ion batteries and corresponding adapter plates that will replace aging nickel-hydrogen batteries for two power channels on the station’s far port truss segment. The batteries will be installed through a series of robotics and spacewalks the station’s crew next month, NASA officials have said. During those spacewalks, astronauts will also make repairs to a $2 billion cosmic ray detector, called the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-2, using tools delivered by HTV-8, according to a space news outlet.

Additional experiments onboard HTV-8 include an upgrade to the Cell Biology Experiment Facility (CBEF-L), a small-sized satellite optical communication system (SOLISS), and a payload for testing the effects of gravity on powder and granular material (Hourglass).

The Small Optical Link for International Space Station or SOLISS is a novel prototype laser communications system that is developed by JAXA and the Sony Computer Science Laboratories to boost data communication speeds with the space station. 

“Long-distance laser communication technology enables the transformation of our society with real-time broadband communication around the globe as well as expanding the humanosphere and increased activity in space,” Sony CSL President Hiroaki Kitano said in a statement.

Other cargoes on the HTV-8 include a new Cell Biology Experiment Facility, several small CubeSats and an experiment called Hourglass to test gravity’s effects on powder and granular material.

Japan’s HTV spacecraft is part of a robotic fleet of spacecraft designed to ferry fresh supplies to the International Space Station. At the end of its mission, HTV-8 will be packed with trash and unneeded items, detached from the station and commanded to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere for disposal. 

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