Spaceflight Insider

Fifth Japanese Kounotori cargo ship departs from ISS

One of JAXA's "White Storks" HTV-2 on orbit above the Earth. Photo Credit: NASA

JAXA’s Kounotori “White Stork” HTV-2 on orbit above the Earth. Photo Credit: NASA

After five weeks attached to the International Space Station, Japan’s Kounotori (White Stork) 5 cargo ship was unberthed by the station crew on Sept. 28, 2015, and sent on a path that will lead to its destructive atmospheric re-entry over the Pacific Ocean on Tuesday, Sept. 29.

Expedition 45 Flight Engineer Kimiya Yui, of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), and NASA Flight Engineer Kjell Lindgren commanded the station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm to release the spacecraft at 11:53 a.m. CDT (16:53 p.m. GMT). Ten minutes later, the cargo ship executed a thruster firing that pushed it away from the space station and into an orbit that would be ideal for its re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.

The release came a bit late due to a “brake error” message from the Robotics Work Station (RWS) in the Cupola window causing the crew to reconfigure and try again. The Expedition 45 crew had about a half hour to resolve the issue before lighting would no longer be ideal for release; however, ground teams opted to delay the release by one orbit (about 90 minutes) in order to evaluate the issue better.

The official time of release from the robotic arm was at 11:53 a.m. CDT (4:53 p.m. GMT). About five minutes later, the first of three planned separation burns occurred. This two-second engine firing pushed the spacecraft away from the orbiting lab.

Less than 10 minutes later, a second burn, lasting 12 seconds, pushed the spacecraft away from the station at a faster rate.

A series of deorbit burns occurred the next day, setting up the spacecraft’s final destructive atmospheric re-entry over the southern Pacific Ocean around 3:33 p.m. CDT (8:33 p.m. GMT), incinerating tons of unneeded equipment.

Arrival Image: needs caption. Photo courtesy of NASA

On August 25, Kounotori 5 was berthed to the orbiting lab with astronaut Kimiya Yui at the controls of the space station’s robotic arm. Photo Credit: NASA

The Kounotori 5, originally known as the H-II Transfer Vehicle 5 (HTV-5), was launched on Aug. 19, 2015, from the Tanegashima Space Center. It arrived at the orbiting outpost five days later on Aug. 24 and was berthed to the nadir port of the Harmony module.

The spacecraft brought about 5.5 metric tons of cargo, which included 4.5 metric tons in pressurized cargo and 1 metric ton in unpressurized cargo.

The unpressurized cargo included the Calorimetric Electron Telescope (CALET) and it was attached to the exposed facility on the Kibo module.

The pressurized cargo also included 600 liters of water, food, and other crew commodities. Additionally, a number of replacement parts, including a new Simplified Aid for EVA Rescue (SAFER), and science experiment equipment, including a Mouse Habitat Unit, Multi-Purpose Small Payload Rack, and a number of CubeSats, were sent up.

The spacecraft also brought up materials to support the Twins Study, which consists of 10 investigations designed to observe the subtle effects and changes that occur in the space environment compared to Earth by studying two individuals who have the same genetics. In this case, Expedition 45 Commander, Scott Kelly, who is on a year-long mission, and his twin brother, Mark Kelly, who is a retired astronaut on Earth.

On departure from the station, HTV-5 carried with it the Multi-mission Consolidated Equipment (MCE), Superconducting Submillimeter-Wave Limb-Emission Sounder (SMILES), and a NASA experiment module called Space Test Program-Houston 4 (STP-H4). These were all destroyed in the destructive atmospheric re-entry over the Pacific ocean.

The next Kounotori, Kounotori 6, is currently scheduled to launch sometime in 2016. It is joined by some heady company in terms of ferrying cargo to and from the ISS. These include the Russian Progress, SpaceX Dragon, and Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo vessels.


Derek Richardson is a student studying mass media with an emphasis in contemporary journalism at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. He is currently the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also writes a blog, called Orbital Velocity, about the space station. His passion for space ignited when he watched space shuttle Discovery leap to space on Oct. 29, 1998. He saw his first in-person launch on July 8, 2011 when the space shuttle launched for the final time. Today, this fervor has accelerated toward orbit and shows no signs of slowing down. After dabbling in math and engineering courses in college, he soon realized that his true calling was communicating to others about space exploration and spreading that passion.

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