CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla – After three botched missions to resupply the International Space Center since October, an unmanned cargo ship blasted off from southern Japan on Wednesday with food, water and gear needed to keep the research station and its crew functioning.
A 19-story H-2B rocket lifted off from the Tanegashima Space Center at 1150 GMT and put the HTV capsule into orbit 15 minutes later, a NASA Television broadcast showed.
It will take the capsule five days to reach the station, a $100 billion laboratory that flies about 250 miles (400 km) above Earth.
Japanese astronaut Kimiya Yui, who arrived at the outpost last month, will use the station’s robot arm on Monday to pluck the capsule from orbit and anchor it to the Harmony module.
The 9,500 pounds (4,309 kg) of cargo aboard the freighter will help the 15-nation station partnership recover from launch accidents that claimed three cargo ships.
The two U.S. supply ships, operated by Orbital ATK and privately owned SpaceX, remain grounded following launch accidents on Oct. 28 2015 and June 28 2015, respectively. Russia’s Progress freighter, one of which failed to reach the station in April, resumed flights last month.
“We’re in good shape right now, but if for some reason HTV didn’t get here, we get pretty low on certain consumables probably in late September, early October,” NASA astronaut Scott Kelly said during an inflight interview on Monday.
In addition to refilling the station’s pantries, HTV carries spacesuit gear, water filters, a galley and science instruments, including a telescope to measure cosmic rays, particles with the highest energy in the universe.
Scientists are interested in the composition of the rays and why they have such high energy levels.
“Cosmic rays come at you from all directions and all the time,” John Wefel, a Louisiana State University astrophysicist, said in a NASA TV interview. “Every time one of these high-energy cosmic rays comes at us and starts triggering the instrument, we record it.”
The telescope, which will be mounted outside the station, is expected to operate up to five years.
Source: Newsdaily (Frank McGurty, Bernard Orr)