Japan's H-2 rocket stands on Pad 2 at Tanegashima.
These are busy times for space enthusiasts, even without an American manned spacecraft of their own. Not only are rockets launching around the world to place satellites in orbit, rockets are also launching to keep our only manned outpost in space supplied with food and equipment. This afternoon, Japan's Space Agency launched an H-2 heavy rocket from Pad 2 of the Yoshinobu Complex on Tanegashima Island. Lifted into space was the HTV-4 (H-2 Transfer Vehicle #4) carrying 3.6 tons of supplies and equipment on course to rendezvous with the ISS next Friday.
H-2 liftoff from Pad 2. HTV-4 coverage by JAXA and seen on SpaceflightNow,com
On board the cargo spacecraft is a new robot: Kirobu. The little human-shaped robot is being called a "robot astronaut" and will perform a Japan-to-ISS conversation with astronaut Koichi Wakata, due to come aboard the ISS in November. Kirobu is programmed with voice-and-face-recognition systems. Japan's roboticists hope to learn how to make robot helpers that will accompany astronauts on long space voyage missions.
Kirobu experiences a moment of microgravity on a parabolic jet flight. Credit: Kibo robot project.
This is the fourth mission of the HTV cargo program. The first HTV was launched in 2009. JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) handles rocket launches from its Tanegashima Island Space Center. After the cargo is removed from the HTV-4 over the next couple of months, ISS crew members will eventually fill the container with trash and disposables, undock the module and direct it to burn up over the ocean. Currently, only SpaceX's Dragon cargo spacecraft is capable of returning to Earth with cargo.
JAXA mission control center for HTV launch.
Station POV: Progress 50 undocks from ISS.
Russia has also recently resupplied the ISS. After undocking the Progress 50 robotic cargo ship from the station (which will also burn up over the ocean), astronauts of Expedition 36 began preparations for another supply effort from Russia. The Progress 50 (designated by Russia as Progress M-18M) included a big piece of equipment from the ISS: the TVIS (Treadmill with Vibration Isolation System), which was replaced recently by a new model BD-2 brought aboard by Progress 51 (M-19M), Up until now, every ISS crew has used the treadmill as part of their physical health program. Some of us who have a love-hate relationships with treadmills on Earth might smile at the thought of the treadmill burning up over the Pacific Ocean.
Astronauts Parmitano (L) and Nyberg practice spacecraft docking procedures.
On approach: Progress 52 heads for a docking. ISS POV.
On July 27, the Russian spacecraft Progress 52 (M-20M) blasted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome on a direct-to station orbital path. Instead of the normal multi-day approach, the launch window allowed for a 6-hour short trip to the ISS. With Ground flight control maneuvering the Progress spacecraft, the docking occurred at the Russian-built Pirs Module. On board the cargo, NASA and Russian controllers placed some tools which will be helpful in analyzing what may have gone wrong with astronaut Parmitano's EVA suit earlier this month when water began flowing into the space helmet.
Crowded parking space at the ISS. HTV is on its way as well.
Front view of Progress 52.
July 16: EVA. Astronaut Cassidy replacing equipment.
Engineers are still working out the glitches that occurred when the water leak began only an hour into the EVA on July 16. If they cannot determine the exact cause on the station, they may have to wait for the next SpaceX Dragon flight so the suit can be sent home to Earth. The urgency to discover the problem's cause is due to the unknown nature, which could affect other NASA spacesuits that the astronauts depend on. As for astronaut Parmitano, he weathered the incident well and continues his mission challenges very well on the ISS.
Italian Superman: Parmitano flies through Japan's Kibo module entrance in a familiar pose.
Japan's robotic vision: Robot Astronauts as long-duration mission companions? Kirobu is just the start it seems.