Japanese cargo craft heads for space station

HTV liftoff
A Japanese H-IIB rocket rises from its launch pad at the Tanegashima Space Center, sending the HTV-6 cargo ship into space. (NASA TV)

A critical resupply mission to the International Space Station got off to a good start with the launch of Japan’s HTV-6 robotic cargo spacecraft today.

The bus-sized H-II Transfer Vehicle rose into space atop an H-IIB rocket from the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan at 10:26 p.m. local time (5:26 a.m. PT). A little more than 15 minutes later, HTV-6 successfully separated from the rocket.

It’ll take four days for the 12-ton cargo ship to catch up with the space station in orbit. For the final rendezvous, crew members will use the station’s robotic arm to pull the craft in for berthing at the Harmony module’s port.

The HTV craft, also known as Kounotori (“White Stork”), is carrying more than 4.5 tons of supplies and equipment for the station’s six spacefliers, including lithium-ion batteries that will replace the nickel-hydrogen batteries currently used to store power generated by the solar arrays. The new batteries will be installed during a series of spacewalks next month.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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