JAXA Improving Plans for Unmanned Cargo Spacecraft To Bring Back Supplies from ISS [The Mainichi Daily News]

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The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) unveiled three design concepts for an unmanned cargo vehicle capable that would be capable of returning supplies from the international space station, the Mainichi Daily News reported Aug. 15.

Japan’s current space tug, the H-2 Transfer Vehicle (HTV), can carry over six tons of cargo to the space station but is designed to burn up when it re-enters Earth’s atmosphere. The envisioned new vehicle, the HTV-R, would be capable of bringing a still-to-be-determined amount of gear back from the space station. The U.S. space shuttle and, to a dramatically lesser the extent, the Russian Soyuz are the only spacecraft in service today capable of bringing anything from the station.

   “The three plans for the HTV-R are: equipping the HTV with a capsule measuring dozens of centimeters in diameter; equipping the HTV with a capsule similar to the Russian Soyuz spacecraft’s return capsule measuring 2.6 meters in diameter; and remodeling the HTV’s cargo space into a large capsule measuring 4 meters in diameter and 3.8 meters high.

   “Of these plans, JAXA is focusing mainly on plans two and three that can be converted into manned spacecraft. The space agency intends to make a final decision by the end of the current fiscal year and launch the first HTV-R sometime between 2016 and 2018.”

Japan’s new fiscal year begins April 1.