Tag Archives: JAXA

HTV space debris experiment is a bust — better luck next time!

The Kuonotori-6, the latest H2 Transfer Vehicle (HTV) to fly from Japan to the ISS, also carried a space debris experiment.  After completing its cargo delivering mission (including delivery of the first set of new batteries for the station’s main power system) and loading up with trash and an old set of batteries, it departed the ISS on January 27.  Not ones to waste a good opportunity, JAXA had equipped it to carry out additional experiments between undocking and its ultimate fiery demise.  For this mission, it carried an electrodynamic tether which, when fully unspooled, would stretch half a mile into space, to test the effectiveness of such a system in passively lowering a satellite’s orbit purely through interaction with the Earth’s ionosphere.

Unfortunately, they ran into problems during deployment.  First, one of the four bolts holding the tether’s counterweight failed to separate on the first try.  On a second attempt, telemetry indicated that the bolt finally separated, but the tether still would not deploy.  Possibly the bolt did not fully separate, or possibly there was some other problem with the mechanism; JAXA engineers will certainly be closely evaluating the telemetry before attempting the experiment again.  One thing is certain: they will not be attempting again with this spacecraft: after abandoning the tether deployment, Kuonotori-6 was deorbited last Sunday, making a self-destructive reentry over the South Pacific.

Still, Japanese engineers do not tend to give up easily, so I expect they will try again.  They’ll have additional opportunities: although HTV does not fly as often as many other ISS cargo ships, it is vital for delivery of the new batteries for the main power system.  New methods for disposal of space hardware is urgently needed; if successful, tethers like this could even be used on things like spent rocket stages, since it is a completely passive system and doesn’t weigh much.  Being able to dispose of spent hardware means it doesn’t stick around to contribute to the growing problem of space debris.

So here’s hoping they can get it working next time!

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Three days, three launches: ERG, Star One D1/JCSAT 15, and TanSat

2016 is wrapping up with some fireworks: three orbital rocket launches this week, and then possibly up to three more next week!

First off, on Tuesday, the Exploration of Energization and Radiation in Geospace, or ERG, spacecraft (to be renamed Arase after postlaunch checkout, after a river near the launch site) blasted off from the Uchinoura Space Center on the island of Kyushu, Japan, atop an Epsilon rocket.  The all-solid-prop Epsilon is a lower-cost replacement to the legacy Mu series of lighter-weight rockets, designed to require a very small launch team and capable of rapid deployment and hopefully to become a strong commercial contender internationally.  This is only its second flight.  Epsilon’s prime contractor is IHI Aerospace; Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which builds the much larger H-II rocket, is a supplier, as is NEC.  The payload, ERG, will be operated by JAXA on a highly elliptical orbit that will force it to pass repeatedly through the Van Allen Belts for the purpose of better understanding them.  It will join two NASA spacecraft already on that mission, permitting three-way observation.

Then there were two launches yesterday.  First, from Kourou Space Centre in French Guiana, an Ariane V heavy lift rocket lifted two commsats to geosynchronous transfer orbit: Star One D1, to provide television and telecommunications services to South America for Embratel Star One of Brazil, and JCSAT 15, to provide television services for SKY Perfect JSAT Corp of Japan.

 

And then overnight, a scientific Earth observation satellite designed to monitor CO2 levels, TanSat, launched into polar orbit aboard a Long March 2D rocket from Jiuquan in northern China.  The spacecraft will be capable of mapping CO2 concentrations down to four parts per million worldwide, and also carries instruments relating to cloud and aerosol detection.  Don’t be alarmed by all the sparklies you see falling — those are sheets of ice illuminated by the brilliant rocket plume.  Ice formation is extremely common on liquid-propellant rockets, since the oxidizer at minimum is chilled to cryogenic temperatures.

All of these launches were completely successful.  There are three more launches planned for 2016, and hopefully they will go just as well: another Long March 2D, a Long March 3B, and a Proton.

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Cargo to the ISS resumes, with HTV “Kounotori-6”

An H-2B rocket blasted off from Tanegashima Launch Center in Japan early this morning, carrying the sixth H-2 Transfer Vehicle on its climb to the International Space Station.  Alas, there was not much time to add cargo following the loss of the last Progress, and HTV cannot make up for the lost propellant (as with the retirement of ATV, Progress is the only means of refueling Zvezda), but it adds a lot of comfortable margin into the stores on board ISS.

The principle payload of this mission is a six new lithium-ion batteries carried in Kounotori-6’s unpressurized payload bay.  These large batteries are intended to replace the batteries in the power supply of the US segment. A s they are lighter and more efficient, one battery is able to do the job of two of the old batteries.  Later on, they will be extracted from Kounotori-6 and subsequently installed in the S4 truss via Dextre, the “Canada Hand” Special Purpose Dextrous Manipulator.  Dextre will also pull nine of the old batteries and stow them aboard Kounotori-6 for disposal when the spacecraft deliberately deorbits after its mission.  Additional batteries will go up on the next three HTV flights.

The pressurized compartment will deliver food, water, clothing, tools, spare parts, research payloads, computer equipment, spacesuit components, a small amount of Russian cargo, a new radiation monitoring experiment, some new cameras to be mounted outside the Kibo module later on for JAXA, fresh CO2 scrubber components, and a dozen CubeSats, which will be deployed over the next few months via the Kibo module’s airlock and NanoRack dispenser.

After the spacecraft is finished with its ISS mission, it will continue to perform science; just like Cygnus, scientists have found ways to make use of the spacecraft after its primary mission is complete.  In this case, JAXA will be testing deployment of an electrodynamic tether to see how practical this could be for cheaply altering a spacecraft’s orbit.  If it works, such a system could be placed on future spacecraft to ensure their disposal at the end of their missions.  Right now, most dead spacecraft simply remain in orbit until they fall naturally, and this presents a debris hazard.

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The ISS in Ultra HD

NASA released this amazing fly-through video of the ISS, taken in Ultra HD with a fisheye lens and set to lovely, relaxing, spacey orchestral music.  If you’re stressed out after yesterday’s events and want to pretend you’re up there, turn out all the lights, put on headphones, put this on full screen, and lean back….

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Himawari 9 launched from Japan!

Himawari 9, Japan’s latest weather satellite, has been launched into orbit by the H-2 rocket from scenic Tanegashima:

Himawari 9 will head up to geosynchronous orbit, where it will sit as an on-orbit spare for Himawari 8.

Meanwhile, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, maker of the H-2 rocket, has announced their intention to offer the H-2 on the commercial launch market.  It’s going to be interesting to see how things heat up over the next few years; it almost starts to seem as if we may have too many commercial providers.  But if nothing else, it will create competition, and that’s usually good for business.  It’s going to be a fun few years for space geeks!

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Soyuz MS-01 returns after four months in space

The international crew of Soyuz MS-01 have returned to Earth!  Anatoly Ivanishin, Takuya Onishi, and Kate Rubins landed in Kazakhstan today.  The lighting was phenomenal, and this is I think the clearest image I’ve ever seen of a Soyuz landing.  You can see all the parachute lines and everything.

soyuz-ms-01-landing

And the video is really good too.  Watch right at the very beginning as you see puffs from the pyrotechnics firing to jettison the heat shield:

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Soyuz MS-01 docking!

Earlier this week, the first Soyuz MS completed the first leg of its maiden voyage, arriving at the ISS right on time and docking smoothly.  The spacecraft’s enhancements include satellite communications to make use of the new Luch spacecraft communications constellation (an analog to NASA’s TDRSS), navigation via both GLONASS and GPS, a phased-array radar to reduce the number of antennas needed, and more efficient thrusters and power system.  The second Soyuz MS, due to fly in September, will also take a lengthy rendezvous to enable comprehensive testing, but after that they should be able to return to the six-hour ascent profile.

The crew have joined the ISS Expedition 48 crew, and will remain on the station into Expedition 49, to return home in November.

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