November 2, 2009

Japanese Space Freighter Returns After Mission To ISS

After completing a mission to the International Space Station (ISS) in September, Japan's new space freighter burned up in the Earth's atmosphere on Friday, BBC News reported.

The H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV) hauled up some 4.5 tons of supplies to the ISS, including scientific equipment for its Kibo laboratory.

Once its mission was complete, the vehicle's engines fired it into a controlled but destructive dive over the Pacific.

The Japanese space agency said the freighter re-entered Earth's atmosphere at 0626 Japan Standard Time (2126 GMT Sunday).

A statement from the agency said that most of the vehicle components would have been destroyed, but some debris was expected to survive and fall into the ocean.

The Japanese HTV has been a major contribution to the International Space Station project and is part of the country's barter agreement with the other station partners.

Once the U.S. space shuttles are retired in 2010, the HTVs that follow in the coming years will play a critical role in servicing the ISS. It is also the only spacecraft that parks up under the bow of the station to allow the platform's Canadarm2 to manage the final stage of attachment.

The ISS project will eventually become dependent on five robotic freighters for its logistics.

Both the Russian Progress and European ATV have already demonstrated their flight capability and four more ATVs have been booked to fly to the station starting in 2010.

After the first HTV mission, Japan plans six more flights through to 2015.

Meanwhile, SpaceX and Orbital Sciences -- two commercial U.S. suppliers -- are in the process of developing their Dragon and Cygnus supply ships. The first of these is scheduled to deliver supplies to the ISS no earlier than the end of 2010.

Because of their ability to deliver larger items in their un-pressurized compartments that would not normally fit through the docking port of a pressurized compartment, both HTV and Dragon are particularly important to the future of the ISS.


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