Kounotori-5: Japan’s white stork delivers cargo to station
Early this morning (EDT) on August 19, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. successfully launched the Kounotori-5 (HTV-5) resupply spacecraft at 7:50 a.m. EDT (20:50 JST) from Tanegashima Island. The name Kounotori means “white stork” in Japanese – a fitting name for a spacecraft that will be delivering 6.6 tons (6,000 kg) of equipment and supplies to the astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) in the upcoming days.
HTV-5 was originally scheduled to be launched sometime in 2014, but the launch was postponed due to delays in the construction and qualification testing of the payload to fly on the capsule. The delay would ensure that all components of the payload could be flown together under one mission. There were also delays from August 16 up until the actual day of launch due to unfavorable weather on the island.
Tanegashima Space Center (TNSC), which is the headquarters of JAXA and Japan’s main launch facility, is located off of mainland Kyushu in Japan. This morning’s launch went smoothly without issue from the Yoshinobu Launch Complex’s Pad 2 (LA-Y2) at the southeast part of the island.
Kounotori-5 flew aboard the H-IIB Launch Vehicle No. 5, named for its flight number. The H-IIB rocket is a two-stage launch vehicle derived from the H-II rocket of the 1990s. Standing just slightly taller than both rockets in the H-II family at 183.7 feet (57 m), it uses the standard liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen propellant formula. After launch, the rocket shed its four strap-on solid rocket boosters before the separation of each of its two stages, which happened approximately 5 minutes and 57 seconds into flight.
Then, the HTV5 capsule separated from the H-IIB’s second stage engine at approximately 14 minutes and 54 seconds before being inserted into an elliptical orbit on course to the International Space Station. The capsule’s target orbit to the ISS is at an altitude between 217.5 miles (350km) and 285.8 miles (460km) at an inclination of 51.6 degrees.
In only a few short days after launch, HTV5 will rendezvous with the space station, aligning itself with the Harmony Node to prepare for berthing.
What is called the Berthing Phase is described below by JAXA:
- Guided by GPS signals, the HTV will approach to within 500 meters below the ISS.
- While using the Rendezvous Sensor (RVS), the HTV will move closer to the ISS guided by the reflectors that are installed on Kibo.
- At this point, the HTV will maintain a distance of 10 meters below the ISS.
From August 20-21, the HTV-5 vehicle will approach the ISS from below to be grappled by the International Space Station’s Canadarm2.
JAXA astronaut Kimiya Yui, who recently launched to the ISS aboard a Soyuz spacecraft on July 23, will be in charge of the station’s robotic arm that will grapple the spacecraft. Kimiya Yui will be remaining on the space station for five months as a crew member of Expedition 44 and 45.
Once Kounotori-5 has been successfully secured to the space station, Yui and the other astronauts on board the ISS will be able to enter and retrieve the payload within the cargo vehicle. The cargo ranges from basic supplies such as food and water to specialized equipment for station maintenance and experimental materials.
The soda-can shaped spacecraft holds roughly 6.6 tons (6,000 kg) of cargo, including both pressurized and unpressurized.
Among the supplies and equipment ferried to space by the spacecraft, Kounotori-5 also carries a tiny CubeSat – S-CUBE – as well as the Calorimetric Electron Telescope (CALET).
S-CUBE, which stands for Shootingstar Sensing Satellite (or S3), was made in a partnership between the Planetary Exploration Research Center of the Chiba Institute of Technology (PERC/Chitech) and Tohoku University. S-CUBE’s primary goal is to make observations of meteors from low-Earth orbit (LEO) using technology based on a 2012 CubeSat also designed by Tohoku University called RAIKO.
Most meteors or “shooting stars” typically occur in the mesosphere at altitudes from 76 to 100 km. Observing meteors from low-Earth orbit avoids interference from the ozone layer – between 20 and 30 km altitude – which absorbs electromagnetic emission in ultra-violet wavelength.
S-CUBE hopes to be able to study clearly these meteors from both the northern and southern hemispheres with its onboard CCD camera.
Unlike the CubeSat on board the HTV-5, the CALET telescope will be attached to the Japanese Experiment Module (JEM-EF) on the International Space Station for observation. The CALET official website describes the telescope as a joint operation between Japanese, US, and Italian universities hoping to study such things as the signatures of dark matter, the gamma ray spectrum, and particle propagation in the galaxy.
The spacecraft itself has been modified from previous Kounotori missions to include two major upgrades to aid in its mission. The first of these is a cosmetic change to its solar panels, which were implemented with equipment to measure the environment, called KASPER. KASPER stands for Advanced Space Environment Research.
The other change is with the loading of the Cargo Transfer Bag, which now allows for an increased capacity of 242 bags, compared to the previous 230. Space for late access cargo has also been raised to a maximum of 92 bags, where it used to hold only 80 bags.
While the Kounotori spacecraft usually can remain berthed to the ISS for a maximum of 30 days, it is expected to separate on September 27, twelve days after, carrying approximately its full capacity of waste materials.
Once it has departed from the ISS, it will begin its journey back to Earth. Within its unpressurized cargo bay, HTV-5 will be carrying waste materials and other items, such as the Multi-mission Consolidated Equipment (MCE), the Superconducting Submillimeter-Wave Limb-Emission Sounder (SMILES), and a NASA experiment module Space Test Program Houston 4 (STP-H4).
A day later, on September 28, Kounotori-5 is scheduled to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere to complete its mission. Pieces of debris from the breakup are estimated to fall into the South Pacific Ocean but may also land in the Indian Ocean.
Video courtesy of JAXA TV
Britt Rawcliffe is a professional freelance aerospace and aviation photographer based out of Pennsylvania with over six years of professional photographic experience. Her creative imagery has spanned into all areas relating to space, including launches, photojournalism, architecture, and portraiture. Britt’s passion for history has been a common thread in much of her work, including having photographed many Moonwalkers such as Buzz Aldrin and Gene Cernan.