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JAXA to launch space capsule to bring back cargoes from ISS

  • September 3, 2018
  • , Nikkei , p. 13
  • JMH Translation

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) will perform a trial run for bringing back cargo from the International Space Station (ISS) about 400 km above earth. The agency plans to use a small-size capsule as a “space cargo ship.” The capsule, which will be loaded on the unmanned replenishment ship “Konotori,” will be launched from the Tanegashima Space Center (Kagoshima Prefecture) on Sept. 11. The small capsule packed with cargo from the ISS will return to Japan and splash down in Japanese waters. Japan has relied on American or Russian spaceships to transport cargo to the ISS. If Japan can successfully establish its own transport technology, the country’s space development will enter a new phase.


Numerous experiments are conducted in the ISS. For example, taking advantage of the gravity-free environment, such tests are conducted as transforming a disease-causing protein into a clean crystal and synthesizing new substances. A study of stress-related genes has also started by using live mice.


Since 2009, Japan has delivered cargo to the ISS by the unmanned cargo ship Konotori. After delivering cargo to the ISS, the single-use cargo ship will burn up in the atmosphere of the earth.


Bringing research results back to Japan directly from the ISS has significant benefits. It saves the transport from the U.S. to Japan. Japan can immediately start analyzing the results of experiments without waiting for the return of astronauts. Japan definitely needs its own transport means.


In the experiment, a circular cone-shaped capsule with a diameter of about 80 cm  and height of 70cm will be used. The capsule can contain about 20 kg of experiment samples, a capacity equivalent to 30 liters. Combined with a heat insulation container and refrigerant, the capsule can carry protein, which is difficult to manage.


Astronauts who stay in the ISS will put cargo into the capsule and attach it to Konotori. Sometime around October to November, Konotori will depart for earth and the capsule will be separated from the cargo ship on the way. The capsule will endure the heat of the atmosphere entry and splash down in waters off Minami-Torishima Island. The capsule will be recovered by a ship and transported to the JAXA Tsukuba Space Center via an airplane and other means from the island.


SpaceX’s “Dragon Spaceship” of the U.S. is reportedly capable of bringing back about 500 kg of experiment-related equipment. The Russian spacecraft “Soyuz” can reportedly carry 10 to 20 kg of cargo. (Abridged)

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