Unmanned Japan craft launched towards space station: Operator

The H-2B rocket lifted off on at 1.05am local time (12.05am Singapore time) with cargo vessel Kounotori8. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

TOKYO (AFP) - Japan on Wednesday (Sept 25) launched an unmanned spacecraft towards the International Space Station, the operator said, after a fire early this month delayed the mission.

The H-2B rocket lifted off at 1.05am local time (12.05am Singapore time) with cargo vessel Kounotori8, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries said on its website.

The launch took place at Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (Jaxa) Tanegashima Space Centre in south-western Japan.

"As planned, the payload separated from the launch vehicle" about 15 minutes later, Mitsubishi Heavy said.

A pre-dawn fire on Sept 11 delayed the launch from Tanegashima island.

Public broadcaster NHK cited Mitsubishi Heavy as saying that the fire was likely ignited by static electricity generated when liquid oxygen from the rocket came into contact with heat-resistant material on the launchpad.

The material was covered with aluminium sheets to prevent a recurrence, NHK said.

Kounotori8, meaning "white stork" in Japanese, intends to deliver about 5.3 tonnes of supplies to astronauts at the International Space Station, including fresh food and water as well as batteries and devices needed for experiments.

In a promotional movie on its website, Japan's space agency Jaxa touts the Kounotori8 as "the world's biggest transport space ship".

Japan has launched other cargo missions to the International Space Station over the past decade.

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