12 Sep 2019
Non-lethal incident prevents lift-off of optical communications system, developed by Japanese team.
A pre-dawn fire on Tuesday, September 10th, forced Japan's space agency to cancel the launch of an unnamed rocket meant to deliver the SOLISS optical communications system and various supplies to the International Space Station, the operator said.
The fire broke out near the launch pad on southern Tanegashima island at around 03:05 am local time, as Mitsubishi Heavy Industries was preparing to launch the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's cargo vessel Kounotori8 on an H-2B rocket.
Michael Baylor, a reporter for NASASpaceflight.com wrote on twitter: “There has been a fire on the pad during the prelaunch operations for the HIIB rocket which was set to launch the HTV8 spacecraft to the International Space Station a few hours later. Water suppression systems seem to have gotten the situation under control.”
Click on embedded video, below, to view start of the fire:
The Kounotori8, meaning "white stork" in Japanese, was intended to deliver SOLISS as well as about 5.3 tonnes of supplies to astronauts at the ISS, including fresh food and water, batteries and devices for other experiments. The Kounotori8 is described as "the world's biggest transport space ship."
A Japan Space Agency official told an early morning press conference that there is no deadline for transporting supplies to the ISS, and the next launch schedule will be decided in cooperation with its international counterparts.
The technical payload included the SOLISS satellite optical communication set up, another system for testing the effects of gravity on powder and granular material (“Hourglass”), and six new lithium-ion batteries to replace aging nickel-hydrogen batteries. Additional experiments on board included an upgrade to the existing Cell Biology Experiment Facility (CBEF-L).
NASA describes the design and purpose of the SOLISS system on its dedicated website: “SOLISS technology allows transmission of large amounts of data from the space station, as well as from satellites in Geostationary Orbit (GEO), to ground stations.SOLISS is a demonstration of future technology intended to be used for broadband data communication in space."
Such small and affordable optical communication systems are a potential approach for creating what NASA describes as a “space data highway in the near future.”
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