Japanese H-2B Launches Cargo Capsule to Station

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LAS VEGAS — Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) successfully launched a cargo capsule toward the international space station Aug. 4 in the fourth flight of the H-2B rocket.

The rocket, carrying the HTV 4 cargo vessel, dubbed Kounotori 2, lifted off from Tanagashima Space Center at 4:48 a.m. local time.

It was the H-2B’s first launch since MHI announced last September that it would be taking over operations of the rocket in hopes of capturing a share of the global commercial launch market. The H-2B is capable of placing 8 metric tons of payload into geostationary transfer orbit, which is double the capacity of JAXA’s workhorse H-2A rocket.  

Tokyo-based MHI hopes to be able to offer H-2B launches as part of package deals involving Japanese-built satellites for customers from emerging nations. In May, MHI also announced that H-2B and H-2A launches could be carried out year-round; previously, they were restricted to specific windows within 190 days out of each year by agreements with fishing industry unions in the Tanegashima area. 

Among the items aboard Kounotori 4 are the NHK K4 super-high sensitivity camera, featuring four times the pixel density of high-definition television. The camera will be used to capture images of the large ISON Comet, which was discovered in September of last year and will make its closest approach to Earth in December.  

Also aboard the cargo carrier, which docked with the space station Aug. 9, is a small humanoid robot developed by Robo Garage, the University of Tokyo, Toyota and Dentsu. The Kirobo robot will perform communications experiments with astronauts and the general public in Japan by downlink.