The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has launched its third model of unmanned transport vehicles into space to rendezvous with the International Space Station. The cargo module is expected to arrive at the space station on July 27, 2012 containing equipment, experiments and food according to Live Science.
A launch rocket called the H-IIB transfer vehicle is used to carry the cargo vessel that is also known as the Kounotori3 per JAXA. This is the second launch of H-II rocket that became operational in 2009. The cargo ship is designed, and built in Japan with Japanese parts in collaboration with private industry. It consists of four main sections including a pressurized and unpressurized logistics carrier, an avionics module, and a propulsion module.
A detailed manifest of the ship's cargo can be obtained at the JAXA website. The two logistics carriers carry 4.6 metric tons of cargo on this mission. In addition to food and astronaut supplies, specific payload includes a small satellite orbital deployer, a coolant water circulation pump, aquatic habitat and a space communications and navigation testbed developed by NASA.
Following travel to the International Space Station via the H-IIB launch rocket, unloading of the cargo ship will be assisted via a Canadian robotic arm. Waste cargo will also be loaded onto the Kounotori3 before undocking. Following this step, the Japanese robotic supply ship will then be allowed to return to Earth for disposal via atmospheric disintegration. JAXA states debris fallout is expected in the South Pacific Ocean.
Unmanned cargo transport has replaced manned flights to the space station numerous times as it is safer, possible and more technologically feasible. The European Space Agency and the privatized missions that have replaced NASA's shuttle program have also accomplished similar tasks. The Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle measures 32.8 feet in length by 14.4 feet in diameter per Tech Media Network's "Space."
Japan's role in the International Space Station is substantial; this includes a 51 percent utilization stake in “Kibo,” the Japanese Experiment Module of the space station according to NASA. Contributing to this accomplishment is a long history of space technology development extending as far back as 1955 when Japan's Institute of Space and Aeronautical Science began rocket launch experiments.
Even though JAXA has achieved a great deal via the Kounotori3 and similar space vehicles, competition in space delivery vessels is increasing. Moreover, according to a Wall Street Journal report, Japan's satellite launch sector has too low a margin, and it must therefore expand its space services and capacity to include higher margin operations to remain sustainable.