A Japanese station cargo ship has lifted off on a debut flight to the International Space Station.
The H-2 Transfer Vehicle, known as HTV, blasted off from the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan at 1:01 p.m. EDT (1703 GMT) aboard an H-2B rocket, also making its maiden flight.
The launch, which was televised by NASA, marks a major milestone for Japan’s aerospace industry and a key resource for the space station program, which will soon lose the enormous cargo capacity of the U.S. space shuttles. The shuttle fleet is being retired due to safety concerns and high operating expenses after six more missions to the space station.
“We are so proud of taking this new responsibility to provide cargo transportation capability to ISS program,” said Masazumi Miyake, a project manager with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. “JAXA is now entering a new era.”
The HTV, which is expected to reach the station on Sept. 17, is loaded with more than 3 tons of food, equipment, supplies and experiments, including two Earth-monitoring devices that will help track climate change.