Japan’s Kounotori 6 re-enters Earth’s atmosphere
Japan’s sixth Kounotori spacecraft, also called the H-II Transfer Vehicle or HTV, re-entered Earth’s atmosphere on Feb. 5, 2017, after spending nearly two months in space to resupply the International Space Station (ISS) and test new technologies.
Re-entry, confirmed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), occurred at 10:06 a.m. EST (15:06 GMT) over the Pacific Ocean. It came just over a week after the spacecraft departed the ISS after spending six weeks attached to the outpost.
After unberthing from the ISS, the week-long free flight was supposed to allow Kounotori 6 to test a 2,300-foot (700-meter) long tether called Kounotori Integrated Tether Experiment (KITE). It was attached to the outside of the cargo craft and was to be deployed for a week.
Unfortunately, the tether failed to deploy. Teams at JAXA worked all last week to get the tether, made of stainless steel and aluminium, along with a 44-pound (20-kilogram) end-mass to extend. However, time ran out.
KITE was supposed to deploy to its full length back on Jan. 27, 2017, not long after Kounotori 6 departed the space station. It was to spend last week fully extended. A current of no more than 10 milliamps was expected to run through the tether to demonstrate how it could affect the orbit of an object.
JAXA hopes this technology can one day be used to help remove space debris. While this experiment failed to deploy, it is unknown if the Japanese space agency will send up a similar experiment on future Kounotori cargo ships.
Kounotori 6 launched on Dec. 9, 2016, atop an H-IIB rocket from the Tanegashima Space Center in Japan. It arrived at the outpost on Dec. 13.
Inside the pressurized section were 3.9 metric tons of water, food, experiments, and crew commodities. This included a new 4K camera, a new small satellite deployer, and a number of CubeSats.
The spacecraft was unloaded over the course of its six-week stay before being reloaded with trash and unneeded equipment.
In the unpressurized section of Kounotori 6 was an exposed pallet with six new lithium-ion batteries. Over the course of several days’ worth of robotics activity and two spacewalks, these batteries replaced 12 old nickel-hydrogen units.
Nine nickel-hydrogen batteries were placed on Kounotori’s exposed pallet for disposal upon re-entry.
JAXA’s next cargo run is slated for February 2018. The next launch to the ISS by any organization is expected to be SpaceX’s CRS-10 Dragon cargo capsule. Liftoff is slated for 11:34 a.m. EST (16:34 GMT) on Feb. 14, 2017, from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A.
Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity. You can find him on twitter @TheSpaceWriter.