Saturday, January 22, 2011
Japan's largest rocket successfully carried into earth orbit today their second supply ship loaded with supplies bound for the International Space Station.
The 33-foot long supply craft, also known as the KOUNOTORI 2, is an improved version of the first supply craft launched in 2009 to allow for more cargo.
KOUNOTORI was selected as the name in a contest held by Japan's space agency JAXA, and means "White Stork" in the native language.
On board the supply craft is 9,000 pounds of research equipment, computers, spacewalking equipment and personal gear for the crew.
One of the partners of the space station, the pride of Japan and their space future rode on today's launch.
"Even under the pressure of budget restrictions", HTV Project manager Yoshihiko Torano said prior to launch day, "no failure or excuse is acceptable."
The second flight of the HII-B rocket launched on time at 12:37:57 a.m. EST (2:37 pm local time) from the Tanegashima Space Center, located on the southern tip of Japan.
As the white rocket launched using a cryogenic fueled main stage with a core engine and four strap on solid fueled boosters, it soared into several wind gusts prior to pushing into supersonic speeds.
At lift-off, the space station soared 224 miles high above the equator over the central Atlantic Ocean, while two of the outpost's six crew members stayed up several hours past their bed time to watch the lift-off.
Station crew members Cady Coleman and Paolo Nespoli watched from the Destiny module the launch live over an Internet feed.
As the rocket tracked southeast from the island nation toward an orbital inclination of 51.65 degrees, the four boosters separated just over two minutes into the flight.
At 12:53:08 a.m., the new supply craft broke free from it's booster and was alone to soar upon the ocean of space and toward it's port-of-call.
It will be Coleman and Nespoli who on Thursday will snare the White Stork with the station's robotic arm and ease it to a docking to the earth facing side of the Harmony module at around 7:42 a.m.
Once the craft docks, sixteen bolts will be driven to secure the cylindrical module to the outpost.
Hours following the berthing of the new Japanese supply craft, Russia will launch their own resupply craft, Progress M-09M to begin a two day orbital trip to station.
One day after Progress' docking to the Russian Pirs module on Jan. 29, the KOUNOTORI 2 will be moved several meters away to the zenith port on Harmony.
Station commander Scott Kelly and Russian flight engineers Dmitry Kondratyev, Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka round out the space station's Expedition 26 crew of six.
Japan became the fourth country in 2009 to have the ability to launch an unmanned craft to the station loaded with fresh supplies.