On Friday, a Japanese capsule launched with vital supplies for the International Space Station a week following the destruction of a Russian shipment soon after liftoff.
The grounding of one of NASA’s commercial suppliers and the Russian rocket accident make this delivery all the more crucial. The spacecraft should reach the station Tuesday.
In a tweet from the space station, French astronaut Thomas Pesquet said, “Have a safe flight. Looking forward to your arrival!”
The capsule – called Kounotori, or white stork – carries approximately 5 tons of water, food, and other supplies, including six new lithium-ion batteries for the solar power system of the space station. Astronauts will perform spacewalks next month to change the old nickel-hydrogen batteries that store energy produced by the station’s big solar panels.
This is Japan’s sixth delivery to the 250-mile-high station, presently home to Pesquet, three Russians, and two Americans. It took off from Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan.
For the meantime, launches by SpaceX have been on hold since a September rocket explosion in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The helium pressurization system in the rocket’s upper stage was ruptured, causing in a gigantic fireball.
The company intends to recommence flights next month from Southern California. The initial launch will carry Iridium Communications satellites. A few weeks later, Cape Canaveral is supposed to launch a space station supply run.
After Friday’s launch, NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson said in a televised interview from the space station that there are already sufficient supplies to last until spring. The Japanese cargo will extend that out even more. In the Dec. 1 launch accident, the Russians lost a spacesuit among many other items, she remarked.
“Spaceflight’s not an easy thing. We just have to keep pressing ourselves to do the right thing, make sure we’re doing all the right tests … so that we don’t have these problems.” Whitson said.