Inspector Gadget. Credit: DIC Entertainment
Like Inspector’s Gadgets messages that conveniently disintegrated in a puff of smoke 30 seconds after being read, Japan’s upcoming launch of an unmanned cargo transporter will self-destruct when it burns up in our atmosphere.
The shiny new Kounotori, which means “white stork” in Japanese, will carry much-needed supplies to the International Space Station (ISS). Its planned launch this month was postponed after a pipe reportedly leaked during an air tightness test, according to a statement from the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Pending tests, the hopeful liftoff date is now expected to be December 9th.
But just how much is sent over to the six brave astronauts rationing their toothpaste on the space laboratory? The Kounotori 6, which is about the length of a bus, will carry over four tons of food, clothes, water, batteries and devices on an H-IIB Launch Vehicle to the ISS. The design is aimed to be low-cost but also reliable, so it’ll collect the stuff onboard, too.
Kounotori 5. Credit: JAXA
Once the H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV) makes its special delivery with the aid of Dextre, the most sophisticated space robot ever, and dock for about 45 days. The HTV will then collect spent equipment and other waste and incinerate with the waste upon re-entry.
The reason JAXA chose such an illustrious name: “A white stork carries an image of conveying an important thing (a baby, happiness, and other joyful things); therefore, it precisely expresses the HTV’s mission to transport essential materials to the ISS.”
Other Kounotori HTVs have gone through a similar process of burning up, aside from Kounotori 5, which made a splashy water landing last year. This mission will be the sixth flight of the HTV.
Trips to the ISS can yield a heck of a lot of science, from experiments to equipment that can be re-used, so the cargo missions often vary. This mission, in particular, will be on the heels of commercial resupply missions from SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft and NASA’s Orbital ATK aboard the Cygnus. Those missions, however, will not result in a puff of cartoon smoke 30 seconds after delivering their goods.