The Last J-Freighter: HTV-9 arrives at the ISS as ESA inks a deal for a third Moon-bound service module

Meanwhile: the UK government is going to clear everything up. Or at least keep an eye on it

Roundup Musk may be about to fire off a crewed missile and Virgin Orbit's first attempt to reach space might have fallen flat, but there was plenty of other fun to be had in the rocket-bothering world last week.

The final HTV freighter has left the planet

It was a bittersweet week for fans of the Japanese space programme as the last H-IIB rocket was launched on 20 May at 17:31 UTC carrying the final HTV freighter to the International Space Station (ISS).

The ninth, and final, mission for Japan's single-use freighter saw the HTV transport 4 tons of cargo to the outpost, where it was grappled by NASA 'naut Chris Cassidy (assisted by Ivan Vagner of Roscosmos) using the station's Canadarm2 robotic arm.

The freighter was docked to the Harmony module of the orbiting lab over the weekend, where it will remain for two months before being sent to burn up in the Earth's atmosphere.

Also called Kounotori (white stork), the trusty HTV is to be replaced by the HTV-X, weighing in at approximately 16 tons with a diameter of 4.4 metres. The HTV-X will also feature power for equipment such as freezers, and will see the last cargo loading moved from 80 hours before launch to 24 hours. JAXA also hopes to see the craft performing cargo runs to the proposed lunar gateway as the ISS era comes to an end.

It could, alas, be a while until the next Japanese freighter pays a visit to the ISS. The HTV-X will be launched on the forthcoming H-III rocket, which has yet to make its maiden flight. Should all go well (and development of the HTV-X itself run as planned) then the first mission could take place in 2022.

ESA and Airbus ink a contract to build a third Artemis Service Module

Construction of the European Service Module, which will keep astronauts furnished with consumables on the way to the first lunar landing, is set to kick off with the sign-off of the deal. Based on the successful Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), which ferried supplies to the ISS, the second ESM is already in production in Germany. The first has been handed over to NASA ahead of the monstrously delayed first launch of the agency's monster rocket.


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That first launch will not feature a crew. The second will, if all goes to plan, send astronauts into deep space. The third mission, planned for 2024, will see astronauts land on the Moon for the first time since Apollo 17 left the surface in 1972.

The ESM (PDF) is a complex beast and, while it might spark a glimmer of recognition in those that remember the Apollo era service modules of 50 years ago, uses a solar array span of 19m to generate 11.2kW of power rather than the fuel cells of old and features 33 engines (including 24 attitude control thrusters.) It is expected to keep four astronauts alive in the Orion capsule on a 20-day mission.

At present, NASA only has three Artemis missions in its definitive plans, although further missions are planned at a cadence of one per year until 2030.

The agency recently spanked more taxpayer dollars on a follow-on contract to produce more RS-25 engines for the Space Launch System. The total contract value of $3.5bn could see Aerojet-Rocketdyne making enough powerplants for six additional missions.

UK government aims to clear things up. In space, that is

While Blighty has ducked out of having much to do with the European Service Module, the UK Space Agency is very much involved in dealing with the challenges presented by debris orbiting the Earth.

Announcing government funding of up to £1m, the UK Space Agency is looking for cost effective projects to monitor objects in Low Earth Orbit or make better use of the data already available.

The UK has form on the debris front. The RemoveDEBRIS mission, led by the UK's University of Surrey, memorably demonstrated the use of harpoon, net and LiDAR to show how space junk might be dealt with, and Britain has also committed £10m to the ADRIOS (Active Debris Removal/In orbit servicing) programme.

Despite the best efforts of rocket companies to tidy up after themselves, and missions to extend the lives of expiring satellites, the issue of space debris is a pressing one.

Particularly with the advent of constellations, such as SpaceX's Starlink and the sabre rattling of the various space powers demonstrating their cleverness in blowing dead satellites to pieces.

You can submit your proposal to the UK Space Agency from today until 10 July 2020 in the hope of securing up to £250k out of that £1m pot. ®

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