A Japanese robotic cargo ship was removed from the International Space Station on Wednesday (November 7) for a weekend date with oblivion to complete a successful supplying mission.
Astronauts at the station released the HTV-7 supply ship from the station using a robotic arm at 11:55 a.m. local time (1651 GMT) when the two spacecraft sailed 254 miles above the northern Pacific Ocean. The Japanese Space Exploration Agency (JAXA) launched a cargo ship to the station at the end of September to deliver more than 5 tons (4.5 metric tons) of fresh food, science equipment and other supplies.
"The Expedition 57 crew would like to thank all JAXA programs and engineering teams for flawless design and implementation of the HTV-7 supply mission," station commander Alexander Gerst of the European Space Agency broadcast Mission Control after a successful disarmament. Cargo ships, he added, are an important part of international efforts to support the only outpost in the world. Gerst uses a robotic arm to release the HTV-7 with support from NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor. [Japan’s Huge HTV Space Truck Explained (Infographic)]
The JAXA HTV cargo ship (short for H-2 Transfer Vehicles) is a disposable spacecraft designed to transport tons of supplies to the space station, and then depart and deliberately burn in the Earth's atmosphere at the end of the mission. Spacecraft, also known as Kounotori (Japan for "white storks") are part of a fleet of cargo robot ships from Japan, Russia, Europe and the United States that have been storing stations stocked for the past 18 years.
HTV-7 sends several important supplies to the International Space Station crew, including six new batteries for the orbiting lab solar power network. It also carried two small cubes for space experiments (which were deployed on October 6) and a small capsule that first entered Japan, will try to return the experiment to Earth. If all goes well, capsules will be deployed just before HTV-7 falls back to Earth in the South Pacific on Saturday (November 10), NASA officials said.
Called HTV Small Return Capsule, a cone shaped vehicle has a width of 2.7 meters (0.8 meters), 2.1 meters (0.6 m) and weighs 397 pounds (180 kilograms).
"The capsule will be released from the hold after the burn burns," NASA officials said in a statement. "The experimental capsule will do a parachute-assisted parachute off the coast of Japan, where the JAXA vessel will stand for recovery."
NASA officials said the capsule was carrying the results of experiments on protein crystal growth.
Gerst hopes the team behind capsule fortune re-entries in their upcoming technology test. He and his Expedition 57 crew packed the capsules with the trial load and attached them to the HTV-7 hold.
"We congratulate all participating engineers for a successful design and a small capsule assembly back, and we wish you the best for the upcoming phase, the most interesting, the capsule mission again: reenter and descend."