T-18 days. Excitement is building up at the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Hectic activity is in progress.
Why all this activity? T-18 days and counting. On January 20, 2011, Kounotori, a six tonne spacecraft of Jaxa will be launched to the International Space Station (ISS). It will be carried by the massive H-11B rocket, stated to be the largest in Japan. Kounotori incidentally means white stork. The launch window will remain open till February 28,2011.
The mission, perhaps one of the most important for this year assumes significance in view of the phasing out of Nasa's space shuttle. Significantly, next month, the European Space Agency (ESA) plans to launch its second automated transfer vehicle known as Johannes Kepler, to the ISS. The first one was called Jules Verne. In the absence of the Japanese and ESA spacecrafts to the ISS, countries would have to depend solely on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft to fly their items to the ISS in the days ahead.
According to Yashihiko Torano, project manager, HTV, the mission profile envisages that after the spacecraft detaches itself from the rocket, the former will start determining its position using the global positioning system and move steadily towards the ISS in a period of three days. All this while it will remain in contact with the ground control centre at the Tsukaba Space Centre via Nasa's data relay satellite.
Nearing the space station, it will approach the ISS from 500 metres below using a laser sensor. The ISS flies at a maximum speed of 7.7 kms per second at an altitude of around 400 kms, Torano states that the docking system with the ISS will be pretty unconventional because it will be the first spacecraft to be ``grabbed'' by the station's robotic arm known as the space station remote manipulator system.
This docking method was selected because it would permit a wider opening of the cargo module so that larger cargoes could be flown to the space station and it is cost effective. Items will be transferred to the ISS and those which have to be discarded will be moved to the spacecraft.
About a month later Kounotori will separate from the space station and re enter the earth's atmosphere. Most of the HTV will burn up due to high temperatures during re entry.
If the mission is successful, world space history would be made.
We are looking forward to it. Good Luck and God Speed!