Japan has launched a cargo-carrying rocket loaded with supplies for the crew of the International Space Station. Amongst the stock standard supplies, Japan has also sent a small companion robot for one of the country’s homesick astronauts.
Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s – JAXA – H-2B rocket blasted off on Sunday from the southern island of Tanegashima at 04:48 am local time, JAXA said the launch had gone to plan.
The latest launch is the 22nd for the decade old space agency, and the 3rd lift-off for the Agency’s Kounotori H-II Transfer Vehicle. It’s the first time anyone has sent an interactive robot to the space station. Sending the android into space is part of a study aimed at seeing how a non-human companion can provide emotional support for people isolated over long periods ::::
“The HTV4 module has separated from the rocket as scheduled and continues its journey to the ISS,” a JAXA spokesperson said during a broadcast streamed over the internet. “Information on its progress will be given later, as and when,” the spokesperson added of the module which is due to dock at the station on August 9.
The unmanned rocket carried a cargo transporter filled with drinking water, food, clothing and work supplies for the six permanent ISS crew.
The annual mission, which has previously been completed by countries including the United States and Russia, will also pick up waste from the space centre.
A small talking robot accompanied the mission. The android is designed to act as a chatting companion for astronaut Koichi Wakata, who is set to arrive at the space station later this year.
Giant leap for Android
Standing at just 34 centimetres tall and weighing about one kilogram, Kirobo is programmed to communicate in Japanese and keep records of its conversations with Wakata, the first Japanese astronaut to command the ISS.
“Kirobo will remember Mr Wakata’s face so it can recognise him when they reunite up in space,” its creator Tomotaka Takahashi told AFP.
“He will be the first robot to visit the space station.”
The robot, which has a wide range of physical motion, will also play a role in some missions, relaying messages from the control room to the astronaut.
Sending the android to space is part of a study aimed at seeing how a non-human companion can provide emotional support for people isolated over long periods.
Back on earth, twin robot Mirata will be on the lookout for any problems encountered by its electronic counterpart, which was inspired by the legendary animation character Astro Boy.
“It’s one small step for me, a giant leap for robots” Mirata said of Kirobo’s journey into the stars.
In January, Japan launched two satellites from Tanegashima to strengthen its surveillance capabilities, including keeping a close eye on North Korea after it vowed to launch another nuclear test.
One of them was a radar-equipped unit to complete a system of surveillance satellites that would allow Tokyo to monitor any place in the world at least once a day.
The other was a demonstration satellite to collect data for research and development.
JAXA – 独立行政法人宇宙航空研究開発機構 – is Japan’s national aerospace agency. Through the merger of three previously independent organizations, JAXA was formed on 1 October 2003.
JAXA is responsible for research, technology development and the launch of satellites into orbit, and is involved in many more advanced missions, such as asteroid exploration and possible manned exploration of the Moon. Its motto is One JAXA and its corporate slogan is Reaching for the skies, exploring space.
The Agency has an annual budget of ¥229 billion/ $US2.46 billion.
image source: AFP Yoshikazu Tsuno
image source: AFP Jiji Press