(Sen) - Japan's H-11B launched successfully from the Tanegashima Space Center on July 21 at 11:06 am local time, carrying the HTV3 "Kounotori" cargo ship into orbit. Kounotori is scheduled to berth with the International Space Station (ISS) on July 27.
Developed and operated by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the H-11 Transfer Vehicle (HTV) is an unmanned cargo spacecraft designed to deliver supplies to the ISS. HTV is nicknamed "Kounotori" which means "white stork" - a nickname chosen as a symbol of carrying important things, such as a baby - or in the case of the HTV - cargo to the space station.
HTV3 is carrying fresh food and supplies for the Expedition 32 crew currently aboard the space station. The payload includes an Aquatic Habitat (AQH), JEM-Small Satellite Orbital Deployer (J-SSOD), five CubeSats and the winning science experiments of the YouTube SpaceLab competition.
The HTV, which measures approximately 10 metres by 4.4 metres, can carry both pressurized and unpressurized cargo, and can deliver approximately 6 tons of supplies.
When the HTV arrives at the space station it will be grappled by the Space Station Remote Manipulator System (SSRMS), known as "Canadarm2", and berthed with the space station - in the same way SpaceX's Dragon was grappled.
HTV's first mission to the ISS - HTV1 - launched on September 11, 2009. The first flight successfully demonstrated the HTV's autonomous and remotely-controlled rendezvous capabilities. HTV1 achieved all planned objectives including its on-orbit technical verification, its rendezvous with the ISS and cargo transportation. HTV1 re-entered Earth's atmosphere on November 2, 2009.
The second HTVflight - HTV2 - launched on January 22, 2011 and completed its mission in March 2011. HTV2 carried 6.7 tons of supplies to the ISS.
HTV2 grappled by the ISS March 2011. Credit: JAXA/NASA
The HTV, like Europe's ATV, is loaded with trash on leaving the space station and burns up during a controlled re-entry into Earth's atmosphere. HTV3 is scheduled to leave the ISS on September 6, 2012.
There are now four ships capable of delivering cargo to the space station. Europe's Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), Russia's Progress supply ship, Japan's HTV and SpaceX's Dragon.
Europe's deal is to provide five ATV supply missions as part of a barter deal whereby Europe delivers cargo rather than cash as its contribution to the running of the space station. The third ATV, named Edoardo Amaldi, docked with the space station in March 2012 and will leave in September.
Russia's most recent supply ship arrived at the space station in April 22, 2012.
NASA are using private companies for their supply missions. In May 2012, SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft demonstrated successfully that it could berth with the ISS and deliver cargo. It is expected to begin the first of twelve contracted supplies in 2013. Another US company, Orbital Sciences Corporation, is scheduled to demonstrate its Cygnus spacecraft later this year and, provided it passes all the tests, will begin a contract for eight supply missions.