Japan’s H-2B rocket blasted off to space Thursday from launch pad 2 at the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan at 1:01:46 p.m. EDT.
The rocket is carrying HTV cargo craft, an unmanned space station cargo, that contains around 7,400 pounds of equipment and supplies to the International Space Station. The cargo craft was released into its planned preliminary orbit 15 minutes after liftoff.
“The launch was beautiful,” Stephen Clark, a U.S. journalist representing Spaceflight Now, said in an instant message from Tanegashima. “The boosters lit with the typical orange glow and away she went. The rocket went into a thick cloud layer around 25 seconds after liftoff, but the rumble shook us for a couple minutes more.”
The craft will not be docking to the station on its own like previous supply ships like Russian Progress supply ships of the European Space Agency’s automated transfer vehicle, or ATV. Instead, the HTV will autonomously maneuver to a position at the capture point, around 29 feet from the laboratory complex. Station flight engineer Nicole Stott will then use the lab’s robot arm to lock onto a grapple fixture.
The HTV will however, do a full week of orbital tests and checkouts first before it will approach the space station on its 8th day into orbit.