Japanese Kounotori 6 arrives at International Space Station
Japan’s sixth “white stork” arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) to deliver supplies, experiments, and Christmas gifts for the crew. The Kounotori 6 cargo ship, also called HTV-6, was captured by the outpost’s robotic Canadarm2 at 5:37 a.m. EST (10:37 GMT) Dec. 13, 2016.
Almost three and a half hours later, at 8:57 a.m. EST (13:57 GMT), the cargo ship was berthed to the Earth-facing port of the Harmony module at the forward end of the station.
“It has about four-and-a-half tons of supplies for us, which we’re really excited about,” said Shane Kimbrough, Expedition 50 commander, right after capture. “We were talking last night and thought it was really cool how our cooperation, and the strength of our international cooperation, is so strong when you have a NASA astronaut and a European Space Agency astronaut using the Canadian robotic arm grabbing a Japanese vehicle and attaching it to the U.S. side of the space station.”
In addition to the 600 liters of water, food, and crew commodities that the soda can-shaped vessel ferried to orbit – are new TV cameras, a new Small Satellite Orbital Deployer, and seven CubeSats in the pressurized section of Kounotori 6.
In the unpressurized section are six new lithium-ion batteries, which will replace 12 nickel-hydrogen batteries.
“Based on a lot of the equipment that’s brought up, we’re going to see a lot of robotic and spacewalk activity coming up in the new few weeks, and it’s going to be really exciting,” Kimbrough said.
Kounotori 6 is scheduled to remain berthed to the ISS for the next six weeks. During that time, Kimbrough and European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pasquet will venture out on at least two spacewalks to install the six new batteries. Those extravehicular activities are currently scheduled for Jan. 6 and 13.
Nine of the 12 replaced batteries will be placed in the Exposed Pallet of Kounotori 6 to be disposed of upon the destructive re-entry of the craft. The other three will be stored on the outpost.
The cargo ship launched atop an H-IIB rocket four days ago, on Dec 9, from the Tanegashima Space Center in Japan. It spent the intervening time catching up to and rendezvousing with the ISS.
The launch was originally scheduled for sometime in September of 2016. However, a leaking pipe was discovered on the spacecraft during a pressurization test. On Aug 10, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency decided to postpone the launch, ultimately to Dec. 9.
In addition to cargo for the outpost, the spacecraft has two built-in technology demonstration payloads. The first is SFINKS, which stands for Solar Cell Film Array Sheet for Next Generation on Kounotori Six. It is a test of thin film solar cells.
The second experiment is KITE, or Kounotori Integrated Tether Experiment. This experiment will run after the spacecraft departs from the outpost in late January. It will test a 700-meter electrodynamic tether with a 20-kilogram end-mass.
The goal of KITE is to demonstrate both the extending of a tether and to observe how it generates an electrical current. Both technologies could be someday be used to help remove space debris.
Video courtesy of NASA
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.