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Japan launched its biggest and newly developed H2B rocket early Friday morning. The rocket placed in orbit Japan’s first unmanned space transportation vehicle — the H-2 Transfer Vehicle (HTV) — for transporting supplies to the International Space Station. Around this weekend, the HTV is scheduled to dock with the ISS. Measuring 10 meters long and 4.4 meters in diameter and featuring a wide entrance, the HTV can accommodate larger equipment than space transport vehicles fielded by Russia and Europe. Under an ISS-related agreement, Japan is to launch a total of seven HTV single-use vehicles through 2015, one per year.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd jointly developed the 57-meter-long H2B rocket at a cost of ¥27 billion — far cheaper than the ¥125 billion for the H2A rocket that preceded it. The H2B uses the H2A’s engine for its first stage, but has two engines rather than one. The H2B can launch up to 16.5 tons of cargo into a low orbit and up to eight tons of cargo into a high orbit. The H2A’s high-orbit payload is 5.8 tons.

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