Japan’s JAXA Launches the Final H-IIB Rocket


The final H-IIB rocket launches the HTV-9 spacecraft. Photo Credit: NASA.

On May 2o, the Japanese space agency, JAXA launched the final H-IIB rocket from the Tanegashima Space Center in Japan. The launch of HTV-9 also marks the final launch of the H-II Transfer Vehicle or HTV spacecraft. The vehicle is also known as the Kounotori spacecraft in Japanese.

last H-IIB rocket sits on the pad prior to launch. Photo Credit: NASA.

The first mission for the the HTV spacecraft was HTV-1 and that mission launched on an H-IIB rocket in September, 2009. However, the spacecraft had been in development for at least a decade prior to the initial launch. The HTV spacecraft is designed to launch cargo and supplies to the International Space Station (ISS). The vehicle has a sections built for both pressurized and unpressurized cargo.

Like Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus spacecraft, the HTV spacecraft is designed to be captured by the ISS’ robotic arm called the CanadArm, which then berths the spacecraft to the station. Once docked, the spacecraft spends a few months at the station before it is then loaded with trash and unberthed from the ISS.

The HTV-8 spacecraft prepares to depart the ISS. Photo Credit: NASA.

The HTV is designed to burn-up on reentry to the Earth’s atmosphere in a controlled fashion after the mission is completed. This sort of destructive reentry is also done by Russia’s Progress spacecraft and again the Cygnus spacecraft.

The H-IIB rocket, which now had a 100% success rate, was manufactured by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. The successor to the launch vehicle will be the H3, which will also launch the replacement for the HTV called the HTV-X. All past H-IIB flights launched HTV vehicles, the rocket was related to the H-II and the H-IIA.

The H-IIB rocket with the HTV-9 spacecraft on top was rolled out to launch pad LA-Y2 on May 19.

Japanese flight controllers are seen after separation of the HTV-9 spacecraft. Photo Credit: NASA.

After launch at 1:31pm EDT, the HTV-9 spacecraft was inserted into a nominal orbit and is currently scheduled to arrive at the ISS on Monday, May 25. Once at the ISS, the HTV-9 spacecraft will deliver supplies to the three-person Expedition 63 crew.