A Japanese spaceship has taken off for the International Space Station (ISS), carrying the much-needed supplies delayed due to three successive launch failures of Russian and American vehicles.
The HTV capsule blasted off from the Tanegashima Space Center on Wednesday aboard the H-2B rocket with 4,309kg of cargo aboard, including water, food and technical equipment.
The spacecraft is due to reach the orbital outpost some 400km away from the Earth’s surface in five days. Japanese astronaut Kimiya Yui, who has been onboard the ISS since last month, will then use the station’s robotic arm to attach the capsule to the station’s Harmony module.
The success of the HTV mission is critical for the space station’s operations.
"We're in good shape right now, but if for some reason HTV didn't get here, we get pretty low on certain consumables probably in late September, early October," Nasa astronaut Scott Kelly said during an inflight interview on Monday.
In late June, the Dragon space capsule operated by the US private space transporter SpaceX was lost in a post-launch explosion, which in addition to regular supplies also destroyed the International Docking Adapter – an important piece of equipment necessary before Nasa can begin sending its new private space taxis to the station.
In April this year, a Russian progress space cargo freighter was left tumbling in a useless orbit following a failure during separation from the rocket. The capsule eventually burned up in the Earth’s atmosphere.
The string of mishaps started in October 2014, when a fire-ball explosion of the other private US space freighter Cygnus took place virtually seconds after lift-off.
The two American vehicles remain grounded, while Russia successfully resumed flights last month.
In addition to operational equipment including spacesuits and water filters, the HTV capsule will also deliver a telescope for measuring cosmic rays. The telescope will be mounted outside the station, where it will help scientists better understand the composition of the cosmic rays and the reasons behind their high energy.