Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is launching a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) H-IIB rocket carrying the last of its H-II transfer vehicles. This cargo spaceship has enjoyed a long career of delivering supplies, payloads and experiments to the International Space Station, but MHI is working on a successor that will aim to begin flying in 2022, with advanced capabilities, including automated docking. This vehicle will also be designed to make it all the way to NASA’s planned lunar Gateway for long-distance cargo delivery.
This launch is important not just because it’s a milestone for the MHI launch vehicle family, and an ending of sorts before the next phase, but also because it’s carrying some very interesting cargo. There are a number of different experiments, but one in particular stands out: It’s a “space avatar” — essentially a remote-controlled robot that a user on Earth can use effectively as a telepresence bot on the ISS, to allow them to remotely experience what it’s like to be on board the station in orbit.
The launch is set to take place at 2:31 AM local time from Tanegashima Space Center in Japan, which translates to 1:31 PM EDT (10:30 AM PDT).