• Kyodo, Jiji


The last of the Kounotori unmanned cargo vessels ended its final mission Thursday as it burned up while re-entering the Earth's atmosphere after transporting supplies to the International Space Station, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has said.

The agency's Kounotori 9 left the ISS on Wednesday carrying waste materials from the station, following the delivery in May of food and water for astronauts, as well as equipment for experiments.

The Kounotori cylindrical cargo vessels had successfully transported daily commodities, experimental units, samples and replacement equipment such as batteries to the ISS dating back to 2009. Since the first one in 2009, all nine Kounotori missions have been successful.

The nine transporters measured 9.8 meters in length with a payload capacity of 6 tons.

From fiscal 2021, Kounotori's successor, the HTV-X, is scheduled to transport vital supplies to the ISS, which orbits 400 kilometers above Earth. The HTV-X will be launched aboard the new H3 rocket, according to JAXA.

In May, an H-IIB rocket carrying the Kounotori 9 lifted off from the remote Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture. The launch was the last for both the cylindrical cargo transporter and the H-IIB rocket.

JAXA said the Kounotori spacecraft had unique advantages over some of its rival ISS cargo transfer vehicles, as it was capable of delivering materials used both onboard and outboard the ISS.

The Kounotori, which means "stork" in Japanese, were the sole means of delivering large equipment to the ISS after the retirement of the U.S. space shuttle in 2011.

The series carried Japan-made lithium-ion batteries to replace old batteries used at the ISS.

In November 2018, a compact capsule containing experiment samples re-entered Earth's atmosphere after being delivered by the Kounotori 7, marking the first time Japan collected samples from the ISS.

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