HOUSTON — Japan’s HTV-2 cargo capsule departed the International Space Station on March 28, signaling a post-earthquake resumption of command and control over major ISS operations by flight controllers at the Tsukuba Space Center, northeast of Tokyo.
The trash-laden freighter, christened Kounotori, is scheduled to make a destructive plunge into the Earth’s atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean on March 29 at 11:09 p.m. EDT, concluding a 10-week mission for the second Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) automated cargo craft. The departing space freighter was filled with discarded packing materials protecting additional cargos launched aboard Discovery as well as other station trash. Japan’s HTV, the European Space Agency’s Automated Transfer Vehicle, Russia’s Progress and emerging U.S. commercial cargo craft will shoulder all of the responsibilities for station resupply once NASA’s shuttle is retired this summer.
The HTV-2 departed at 11:46 a.m. EDT, after astronauts Catherine Coleman and Paolo Nespoli unberthed the 33-ft.-long capsule from the orbiting laboratory’s Harmony module, using the station’s robot arm.
Japanese control over the station’s Kibo laboratory and HTV-2 operations was lost when the March 11 earthquake and tsunami damaged the Space Station Integration and Promotion Center at Tsukuba and cut an undersea communications cable. Japanese personnel re-established temporary control of the facilities through NASA’s Mission Control Center in Houston. JAXA resumed control on March 22.
The HTV-2 was launched from Tanegashima Space Center on Jan. 21 with nearly six tons of external and internal supplies, including research equipment and spare parts for thermal control and electrical systems.
The spacecraft was captured and berthed to the Harmony module of the station’s U.S. segment on Jan. 27 and later repositioned to provide clearance for the arrival of NASA’s shuttle Discovery.
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