JAXA Freighter Heading To The International Space Station
August 4, 2013

JAXA Rocket Carrying KIROBO Robot Departs For Space Station

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

A Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) spacecraft carrying supplies, food, experiment hardware and one pint-sized talking robot has begun its weeklong journey to the International Space Station (ISS) after lifting off from the Tanegashima Space Center on Saturday afternoon.

According to NASA officials, the fourth JAXA H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV-4) launched from the facility, which is located in southern Japan, at 3:48pm EDT Saturday (4:48am Sunday local time). Also known as Kounotori or "white stork" because it is transporting an important delivery, HTV and its 3.5 ton payload launched aboard an H-IIB launch vehicle en route to the ISS, which was flying 260 statute miles over southwest Russia at the time of departure.

In addition to carrying drinking water, food, clothing and work supplies for the Expedition 36 crew members currently stationed onboard the facility, HTV-4 will be delivering new hardware for NASA's Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM) - an initiative designed to demonstrate and test the tools, technologies and techniques needed to robotically service and refuel satellites in space.

The agency hopes that RRM will lay the foundation for future robotic servicing missions in microgravity, and the hardware currently en route to the ISS will allow RRM to be outfitted in order to practice a new set of satellite-servicing activities. Among those activities is a 2014 demonstration of how space robots can help replenish the refrigerant cryogen in the instruments of older satellites that were not originally designed to be serviced.

Also making the journey to the space station is KIROBO, a 13-inch tall humanoid robot programmed to communicate in Japanese. As reported last month by redOrbit.com's own Lee Rannals, KIROBO is accompanying Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata, and is programmed to remember his face and to keep records of its conversations with him.

KIROBO - which is equipped with speech recognition, natural language processing, speech synthesis, information communication, facial recognition and recording technology - is also expected to play a role in some ongoing ISS missions. It is expected to relay messages from the control room to the astronaut. The communication test between the robot and Wakata is reportedly scheduled to begin in November.

According to BBC News, the project "is part of a study to see how machines can lend emotional support to people isolated over long periods." The robot, whose name is a portmanteau of the Japanese words for "hope" and "robot," underwent dozens of tests over the past nine months to ensure that it was compatible with space and able to reliably perform its tasks on the ISS. A twin robot, MIRATA, will be stationed on Earth and will keep tabs on KIROBO, the British news agency added.

HTV-4 is expected to reach and dock with the space station on August 9, according to AFP reports. The vehicle is also delivering test samples for research experiments inside the Kibo laboratory, a new freezer capable of preserving materials at temperatures below -90 Fahrenheit, and four small CubeSat satellites to be deployed from Kibo's airlock, NASA said.