U.S., Japanese Firms Team Up on ISS Supply Plan
A Rocketplane Kistler K-1 cargo vehicle bears down on the International Space Station in this artist's illustration.
CREDIT: Rocketplane Kistler.
NEW YORK - Two commercial firms in the U.S. and Japan are teaming up with hopes of ferrying experiments and other cargo to a planned Japanese laboratory at the International Space Station (ISS).
The Oklahoma-based Rocketplane Kistler, Inc. and Tokyo's Japan Manned Space Systems Corp. (JAMSS) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to develop commercial launch support for Japanese users of the space station's Kibo laboratory. The firms announced the deal Tuesday during a Space Investment Summit held here near Wall Street.
Rocketplane Kistler is developing its K-1 reusable rocket and cargo module as part of NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program to spur the development of private cargo and crew delivery systems for the ISS. The firm is sharing a $500 million NASA award with fellow COTS contender Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), which is developing its own Falcon rocket family and Dragon crew capsules.
Charles Lauer, vice president of business development for Rocketplane Kistler, told SPACE.com that the deal will hopefully lead to ISS-bound launches in 2009 once all components of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA) Kibo laboratory have been installed at the space station.
"Having readily available commercial transportation services to the ISS for both upmass and downmass is critical to attracting users for Japanese investment in ISS facilities and resources," Kazuhide Todome, JAMSS managing director, said in a statement. "The K-1 launch vehicle shall provide key services to JAMSS and the ISS user community."
Lauer said that about 30 percent of Japan's Kibo laboratory assets are expected to be available for commercial users, though JAXA officials said Wednesday that they could not comment on the future plans of private firms with an interest in supplying their orbital laboratory. Any commercial supplies are envisioned to be launched inside K-1 cargo compartments that will resemble those found on the middeck of NASA's space shuttles, he added.
JAXA's Kibo laboratory consists of several components, but at its heart is the 37-foot (11.2 meter) long Japan Experiment Module (JEM) Pressurized Module. Slated for launch in April 2008 aboard a NASA shuttle, the pressurized laboratory will be the largest science module to be installed at the ISS.
Adding to Kibo's pressurized laboratory is the Experiment Logistics Module, a pressurized compartment that will serve as an orbital storage area for tools, supplies and other equipment to be used inside Kibo. A dedicated robotic arm and external science platform, designed to expose samples to the space environment, round out the Kibo laboratory.
Kibo's Experiment Logistics Module is slated to launch in February 2008, and was welcomed into NASA's Space Station Processing Facility at Florida's Kennedy Space Center on Tuesday.
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