Tokyo: Japan on Thursday launched its first cargo
spacecraft to the International Space Station, aiming for a
share of space transport after the retirement of the US space
shuttle fleet next year.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) launched
the unmanned H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV) atop an H-IIB rocket,
which is also on its first flight, as scheduled just after
1700 GMT on Thursday, agency images showed.
The HTV was separated from the H-IIB, as planned, about
15 minutes after the launch.
The rocket blasted off from the Tanegashima Space Center
on a southern Japanese island, with the HTV carrying 4.5 tons
of supplies including food and daily necessities for the six
ISS crew, as well as experiment materials.
Later this month, in an unprecedented attempt, astronauts
will operate a Canadian robotic arm at the ISS to grab the HTV
and dock it as the vehicle approaches the station.
The 10-metre long cylindrical vehicle, which cost USD 217
million, will deliver the supplies, load waste materials and
return to Earth, burning up as it reenters the atmosphere.
Japan has spent 68 billion yen developing the vehicle,
which is designed to be modified in future to carry humans.
Japan currently has no spacecraft that can send man into