Page last updated at 03:36 GMT, Monday, 2 November 2009

Japanese freighter makes re-entry

HTV release (Jaxa)
The HTV was unhooked from the ISS by the station's robotic arm

Japan's new space freighter has burned up in the Earth's atmosphere after completing its mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

The H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV) carried 4.5 tonnes of supplies to the orbiting platform, including scientific equipment for its Kibo laboratory.

The HTV, which had arrived at the ISS in September, was released on Friday.

A series of engine firings then took the vehicle into a controlled but destructive dive over the Pacific.

A statement from the Japanese space agency said the freighter re-entered the atmosphere at 0626 Japan Standard Time (2126 GMT Sunday).

Most of the vehicle components would have been destroyed although some debris was expected to survive and fall into the ocean, it added.

The HTV is one of Japan's major contributions to the orbiting space station project and is part of the barter agreement it has with the other station partners to pay its way.

The HTVs that follow in the coming years will play a critical role in servicing the ISS after the US space shuttles are retired.

It is the first spacecraft to visit the ISS which does not drive itself all the way to berthing. Rather, it simply parks up under the bow of the station to allow the platform's Canadarm2 to manage the final stage of attachment.

HTV impression (Jaxa)
Length: 9.8m; Diameter: 4.4m; Vehicle Mass: 10.5t; Max cargo: 6t
Pressurised cargo: Food, clothing, water, laptops, science equipment, etc
External cargo: Equipment to study Earth's oceans and the atmosphere
First unmanned vehicle to deliver both pressurised and unpressurised cargo

When the US shuttles retire at the end of next year or the beginning of 2011, the ISS project will become dependent on five robotic freighters for its logistics:

• The Russian Progress and European ATV have already demonstrated their flight capability. Four more ATVs have been booked to fly to the station, one a year starting in 2010.

• Following on from the first HTV mission, Japan plans a further six flights through to 2015.

• Two commercial US suppliers, SpaceX and Orbital Sciences, are in the process of developing their Dragon and Cygnus supply ships. The first of these is scheduled to deliver supplies to the ISS no earlier than the end of 2010.

HTV and Dragon are particularly important because of their ability to deliver larger items in their unpressurised compartments that would not normally fit through the docking port of a pressurised compartment.

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