A robotic Japanese cargo ship flew from the International Space Station on Wednesday (November 7) for a forgotten weekend to end a successful supply mission.
Astronauts at the station released the HTV-7 delivery vessel from the station using an automatic arm at 11:51 EST (1651 GMT), when both spacecraft sailed 254 miles over the North Pacific. The Japanese Space Investigation Agency (JAXA) introduced a cargo ship to the station at the end of September to deliver over 5 tonnes (4.5 tonnes) of fresh food, scientific equipment and other materials.
"The Expedition 57 crew would like to thank the entire JAXA team and engineering teams for the flawless design and implementation of the HTV-7 supply mission," said station commander Alexander Gerst, after successfully returning to the garage. He added that the cargo ship is an essential part of a truly international effort to support the world's only facility in space. Gerst used the robot arm to release the HTV-7 using NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor. [Japan’s Huge HTV Space Truck Explained (Infographic)]
HTV JAXA cargo ships (short for H-2 Transfer Vehicles) are disposable spacecraft designed to transport tons of cargo to the space station, and then depart and deliberately burn in the Earth's atmosphere at the very end of the mission. The spacecraft, also known as Kounotori (the "white stork" in Japanese) is part of a fleet of robot cargo ships from Japan, Russia, Europe and the United States that have maintained a station with supplies in the last 18 years.
HTV-7 provided several important materials for the crew of the International Space Station, including six new batteries for the solar network of the orbiting laboratory. He also carried two tiny cubes to experiment with a space elevator (which was implemented on October 6) and a small return capsule, which in the first for Japan will try to return experiments to Earth. If all goes well, the capsule will be deployed just before HTV-7 returns to Earth over the South Pacific on Saturday (November 10), NASA officials said.
It is called a small HTV capsule, the cone-shaped vehicle is 2.7 m wide (0.8 m), 2.1 m high (0.6 m) and weighs 397 lbs (180 kilograms).
"The return capsule will be ejected from the hatch after the deorbits have been burned," NASA officials said in a statement. "The experimental capsule will make a parachute drop off the coast of Japan, where the JAXA ship will be waiting for its recovery".
NASA officials said the capsule contains the results of the protein crystal growth experiment.
Gerst wished the team would recommend the capsule again in the upcoming technological test. It was him and his companions from expedition 57 who loaded the capsule with an experimental charge and attached it to the HTV-7 manhole.
"Congratulations to all participating engineers for the successful design and assembly of the small return capsule and wish you all the best for the upcoming, most interesting phase of the capsule return mission: re-entry and descent."