Japan’s unpiloted supply ship, HTV-8 (known as Kounotori8) was supposed to launch to the International Space Station on September 10th, but it was postponed due to a fire on the launch platform of the mission’s rocket. A new launch date has yet to be announced, and it won’t be expected until inspections and repair work is complete.
The H-2B rocket, built by the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries will be carrying the HTV-8 spacecraft to the International Space Station sometime after a new launch date is announced. (Image Credit: Mitsubishi Heavy Industries)
Everything seemed to be going according to plan until a bright orange flame suddenly erupted near the base of the rocket at 2:05 p.m. EDT (3:05 a.m. local time) while JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) was counting down the launch of the HTV-8 cargo ship. Minutes later, torrents of water began soaking the end of the booster and its launch stand until it was fully extinguished two hours later.
The cause of the fire is not yet known, but the robotic spacecraft sustained no damages, and no injuries were reported. It is not known if there are any damages to the H-2B rocket. The mission would’ve carried replacement batteries for the International Space Station’s solar power system and 2.5 tons of supplies and equipment for the six-person crew. Liftoff from the Tanegashima Space Center was scheduled for 5:33 p.m. EDT (6:33 a.m. local time).
"Named Kounotori, meaning white stork in Japanese, the craft will deliver six new lithium-ion batteries and corresponding adapter plates that will replace aging nickel-hydrogen batteries for two power channels on the station's far port truss segment," NASA said in a statement. "The batteries will be installed through a series of robotics and spacewalks by the station’s crew members later this year."
The spacecraft is also carrying an experimental Sony laser communication system, the experiment Hourglass, which will be used to test the effects of gravity on powder and granular material. It will also provide an upgrade to the space station’s Cell Biology Experiment Facility. NASA astronauts will be installing the batteries on the P6 solar array module during a spacewalk this year to replace the older batteries.
The Sony system will be used in an effort to test future communications between satellites or with ground stations by using extremely fast laser communications.
"We have very high expectations for this technology," ISS astronaut Koichi Wakata, said in a statement. "This technology ... will likely be widely used not only in the telecommunications industry but in the future as a means of communication in the field of exploration. Specifically, it can be used as a means of communication between the Earth and the International Space Station, the moon and Mars."
Just before the launch date on September 10th, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries launched seven successful HTV flights since 2009. The recent launch attempt, if successful, would’ve marked the 10th anniversary of the first HTV flight. A launch delay shouldn’t cause any issues for the space station crew members since they’re not running low on food and supplies and appear to be in good health.
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