The Japanese spacecraft HTV-6 has reached the International Space Station

The HTV-6 cargo spacecraft capture by the International Space Station's robotic arm (Image NASA TV)
The HTV-6 cargo spacecraft capture by the International Space Station’s robotic arm (Image NASA TV)

A little while ago the HTV-6 “Kounotori” spacecraft has been captured by the robotic arm Canadarm2 on the International Space Station, operated by Shane Kimbrough with the assistance of Thomas Pesquet. The Japanese space cargo ship, which blasted off last Friday, carries a huge amount of supplies and experiments. After its capture, it will take a little while before the HTV-6 starts getting moved to its berthing location on the Harmony module.

Tomorrow the crew of the International Space Station will open the hatch of the HTV-6 spacecraft and start unloading its cargo. After the failure of the Russian Progress MS-4 cargo spacecraft mission it was important that the Kounotori accomplished its mission, even the more because the Japanese spacecraft has considerable capacity and therefore can carry a lot of supplies for the crew.

The Kounotori will remain docked with the International Space Station until about January 20 but as always in these cases the date is approximate and can be changed if other activities will take priority. Like other cargo spacecraft that can’t land, after its departure it will be used to eliminate hardware that failed or however old and various wastes, which will be disintegrated with the spacecraft reentering the Earth’s atmosphere.

This re-entry will not take place immediately after the departure from the International Space Station but after about a week. In those days the Kounotori will be used to perform the KITE (Kounotori Integrated Tether Experiment) experiment, which requires the deployment of a 700-meter long Electrodynamic tether (EDT) made of aluminum and stainless steel that will be used to test a new system to eliminate space debris.

In essence, an interaction between the Electrodynamic tether and the Earth’s magnetic field should gnerare enough power to influence the orbit of any debris nearby. The idea is to slow them down, enough for their orbit to decay and fall down into the atmosphere disintegrating.

For now, there’s the satisfaction for the arrival of the HTV-6 cargo spacecraft and even in the control center at the Japanese space agency JAXA the mission staff went into an open jubilation after its capture. The activities on the International Space Station can now go on always remembering  that space missions are still risky.

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