White Stork Delivers Metal-Levitating Furnace, Backup Toilet, and Whiskey to Space Station

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Astronauts on the International Space Station are resupplied with the safe arrival of JAXA’s HTV-5 “White Stork” cargo tug. The spacecraft delivered a metal-levitating furnace, a high-energy radiation observatory, whiskey, extra food, and experimental materials to the space station on Monday morning.

HTV-5 launched on August 19, 2015. Image credit: JAXA

This is the fifth cargo run for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA’s) using their H-IIO Transfer Vehicle (HTV). This specific spacecraft, HTV-5, is named Kounotori (“white stork”) for its role in making an important delivery to the space station.


Astronauts Yui and Lindgren practicing grappling HTV-5 with the Canadarm. Image credit: NASA


After launching on August 19, 2015, HTV-5 has been sneaking up on the International Space Station before arriving on Monday. Once the gap was just 9 meters, the spacecraft was in 99-second free-drift until it was grappled by the Canadarm2 at 10:29am UTC, and pulled in to berth at the Nadir Port on the Harmony module. After sealing the vestibule with the Common Berthing Mechanism bolting the spacecraft in place at 2:58pm UTC. Finally, HTV-5 was hooked into the power supply and communications line of the space station. Finally, the hatch was opened. Watch the highlights here:

Arrival of the JAXA HTV-5 cargo craft at the International Space Station on August 24, 2015.


Teams around and above the world coordinated for moment of capture. JAXA Flight Engineer Kimiya Yui operated the Canadarm2 from the space station, assisted by NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren and backed up by the Remote Multipurpose Support Room at the Canadian Space Agency headquarters in Quebec. This was the first time a Japanese astronaut controlled the robotic arm during the capture of an HTV spacecraft. Astronauts Douglas Wheelock and Koichi Wakata joined Flight Director Royce Renfrew in Mission Control Center in Johnson Space Center for the capture, coordinating communication. Finally, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly monitors HTV-5 systems from the space station while the JAXA ground crew participated from the Tanegashima Space Center.


Mission Control at Johnson Space Center moments before the capture of HTV-5 by the Canadarm. Image credit: Royce Renfew

The HTV spacecraft are 10-meter long cylinders with a 4.4 meter diameter. The main body is split into two cargo modules, an Avionics Module of control systems, and a Propulsion Module of propellants and engines. The two cargo modules are a Pressurized Logistic Carrier (PLC) that stays at normal ground pressure (1atm), and an Unpressurized Logistic Carrier (ULC) that is exposed to the vacuum of space.


The HTV- safely snared by the space station’s robotic arm. Image credit: NASA/Scott Kelly


The cargo tug has a maximum capacity of 6 tons: this particular vehicle is carrying about 3,600 kilograms (8,000 pounds) of research materials and supplies. The cargo manifest was adjusted to carry additional food and critical backup materials lost during the explosion of the last SpaceX Dragon cargo mission. Astronauts will begin unloading the capsule on Tuesday.


HTV-5 passing below the space station hours before its berthing. Image credit: NASA/Scott Kelly

In the unpressurized compartment, HTV-5 is carrying:

  • 1 Calorimetric Electron Telescope (CALET), a space radiation observatory that will be used for a hunting high-energy cosmic rays and dark matter.

In the pressurized compartment, HTV-5 is carrying:

  • 12 Mouse Habitat Units (MHU) for a series of 30-day experiments on aging. The habitats have adjustable gravity conditions to test out the impact of microgravity compared to a 1G (Earth-normal gravity) control scenario, the first time an artificial gravity experiment will be conducted on mammals on the International Space Station.
  • 1 Electrostatic Levitation Furnace (ELF), an experimental platform for levitating high temperature melts without an external container. The mechanism will be used to collect thermophysical property data on melts over 2,000ºC, specifically those that convert from metals to insulators.
  • 1 second-generation Multi-purpose Small Payload Rack (MSPR-2), an upgraded structure to install in the Kibo module. The structure will provide stability, power, and communications for each experimental platform. ELF will be the first experiment installed on the rack,slotted into the upper segment of the work volume.
  • 1 second-generation Exposed Experiment Handrail Attachment Mechanism (ExHAM-2) and 1 NanoRacks External Platform (NREP). The devices are used as a support structure and power supply conduct plug-and-play experiments exposed to vacuum within the Kibo module’s airlock. Experiments will be manipulated by the JEM Remote Manipulator System, a robotic arm. This new setup means the experiments can be conducted without requiring a spacewalk, making it easier to swap samples in and out for more frequent experiments and encouraging commercialized investigations.
  • Cell Preparation Tubes for -omics investigations for NASA’s year-long Twins Study. “-Omics” encompasses a range of biological and molecular studies including biomolecules, proteomics, metabolites, metabolomics, and genomics. These particular studies involve collecting biological studies to compare the orbital twin’s blood and urine to his Earth-based twin.
  • Experimental samples to attach to both the original and upgraded ExHam and ExHam-2.
  • 14 DOVE microsatellites, the latest flock of CubeSats for Planet Labs. The DOVEs are ejected from a launcher system and used to take frequent high-resolution planet-wide photographs until their orbit decays and they burn up on reentry.
  • 3 GomSpace GOMX-3 microsatellites, a CubeSat mission to test signal reception and beam signal quality for global aircraft tracking.
  • Pumps and filters for the Water Recovery System. Two multifiltration beds remove contamination from the station water supply; a Fluids Control and Pump Assembly is used in water recycling to distill urine and condensation from the air conditioner into drinkable water, and a Wring Collector provides a manual backup for the toilet.
  • 1 Galley Rack for the Unity Module. The rack will be installed near the dining table, and used to dispense potable water and warm food.
  • 1 Simplified Aid for EVA Rescue (SAFER), a small thruster system that astronauts can use as a backup rescue device during spacewalks.
  • 1 Respiratory Support Pack, a medical device to provide breaking assistance if an astronaut has impaired lung function.
  • 1 Exposed Facility Power Distribution Box (EF-PDB), a backup electrical power system for the Kibo module.
  • Food, potable water, and personal effects for the crew.

But most importantly, the spacecraft was carrying whiskey. Although it’s entertaining to contemplate astronauts getting loaded in the cupola sipping from their zero-gravity coffee cups, it’s actually for an experiment on aging whiskey. This is part of an ongoing series of experiments on how microgravity impacts how alcohol mellows over time.


Schematic of the state of spaceships at the International Space Station as of August 24, 2015. Image credit: NASA


The arrival of HTV-5 brings the total number of vehicles berthed at the International Space Station to four: a Soyuz for each crew of three astronauts, the Roscosmos Progress cargo tug, and the new JAXA cargo tug.


HTV-5 dangling from the Canadarm on the International Space Station on August 24, 2015. Image credit: NASA/Kimiya Yui

The cargo tugs are one-use only: after unloading, the spacecraft will be refilled with garbage and de-orbited on a destructive trajectory to burnup during reentry. Although it sounds ridiculous, garbage days on the International Space Station are carefully-planned affairs. When HTV-5 undocks for its final journey five weeks from now, it will be carrying:

  • Superconducting Submillimeter-Wave Limb-Emission Sounder (SMILES), an ozone depletion observatory delivered by HTV-1 in 2009.
  • Multi-mission Consolidated Equipment (MCE), a conglomerate of five independent experiments delivered by HTV-3 in 2012. The experiments mapped the upper atmosphere, monitored sprites and lightning, checked out membranes, and tested robotics and high-definition television cameras exposed to vacuum.
  • Space Test Program - Houston 4 (STP-H4), a meteorological experiment delivered by HTV-4 in 2013.

JAXA’s HTV-5 cargo tug safely berthed to the International Space Station. Image credit: NASA/JAXA



Top image: Kounotori against the backdrop of an aurora-clad Earth. Credit: NASA/Kimiya Yui

Contact the author at mika.mckinnon@io9.com or follow her at @MikaMcKinnon.