JAXA's HTV-9 to Burn Up on Re-Entry After ISS Departure

HTV-9's de-orbit marks the end of 11 years of JAXA's HTV Cargo spacecraft missions.
Chris Young

Japan's barrel-shaped H-II Transfer Vehicle-9, also known as HTV-9, has departed the International Space Station (ISS) for the last time.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) HTV Cargo spacecraft, nicknamed the "Kounotori" (Japanese for "white stork"), was released from its perch on the station's robotic arm on Tuesday (Aug. 18) 1:36 p.m. EDT.


The uncrewed cargo vehicle will spend two more days in orbit before the "white stork" more closely resembles a phoenix after flight controllers in Tsukuba, Japan, command a de-orbit engine burn that will make the craft plunge towards Earth and burn up on re-entry into the atmosphere.  

When the HTV, which has been filled with about 7,400 lbs. (3,400 kilograms) used equipment and trash from the ISS, burns up over the Pacific Ocean, it will mark the end of 11 years of HTV missions.

JAXA's HTV-9 to Burn Up on Re-Entry After ISS Departure
Japan's H-II Transfer Vehicle-9 (HTV-9) attached to the "Dextre" fine-tuned robotic hand on the ISS, Source: NASA

The HTV was Japan's first spacecraft to service a space station and also the first uncrewed vehicle to be berthed on the U.S. segment of the ISS. The solar-powered spacecraft, which is 33-feet (10-meter) long and 14-feet (4.4-meter) wide, was also the first capsule to carry pressurized and unpressurized cargo simultaneously.

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The spacecraft was first launched on September 10, 2009, aboard Mitsubishi Heavy Industries' first H-IIB rocket from the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan.

Over those 11 years, HTV-9 and its predecessors delivered more than 40 tons of supplies to space station crews, NASA explained in a post"I want to congratulate Japan on the HTV missions,"  Joel Montalbano, NASA's ISS program manager, said in a statement during NASA TV's live broadcast of the departure. 

All of this is not to say that we're seeing the end of Japan's cargo spacecraft capabilities: JAXA is developing a new fleet of HTV cargo craft, the HTV-X, the first of which is expected to launch in 2022.

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