Japan H-2 Reenters Atmosphere

The recent contribution from JAXA, the Japanese Space Agency, the H-2 HTV has plunged into the atmosphere loaded up with garbage marking the end of its successful mission. Mission managers fired the 33-foot long cargo carrier's engines one final time, sending the vehicle hurtling toward the Pacific.

Artists conception of H-2 reentry

Beginning with a spectacular launch from the Tanegashima Island off the southern coast of Japan, the H-2 was lofted atop an H-2B rocket which Japan has built for the cargo carrier. Like the European ATV, the HTV spent a week in immediate vacinity of the ISS performing automation and manoeuvering trials, but unlike the ATV, the HTV is docked to the station manually using the Canararm 2 robotic arm.

Carrying 7,500 pounds of supplies and experiments to the station, the HTV is another piece of vital infrastructure required to keep the orbiting outpost functioning after the loss of the Space Shuttle fleet in 2010. Three partner nations will keep the station resupplied during the US hiatus from spaceflight, Russia, Europe, and Japan, with Russia the sole carrier of humans to the ISS. The HTV will be the only craft able to carry unpressurized payloads and will be solely responsible for delivering large Orbital Replacement Units, or ORU's, which the remaining Shuttle missions are concentrating on lofting to the station alongside the much larger station components and modules.

H-2 is grappled and released before reentry

Once the supplies have been unloaded, the empty space can be filled with waste and garbage that the 6 person crew accumulates during their daily activities. After being de-orbited, most of the craft burns up in the fiery heat of reentry, but some of the mass still makes it to the ocean - hence targetting a remote area. It is expected that the fuel tanks and some of the engine hardware, which are the most sturdy by design, will survive.

H-2 backdropped against Earth

JAXA is planning to launch at least one HTV per year to resupply the ISS.


Images courtesy of JAXA, NASA and NASA TV
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