Japan to Upgrade HTV Cargo Ship

HTV in flight (Credit: NASA)
HTV in flight (Credit: NASA)

JAXA is planning enhancements to its next generation HTV freighter, The Yomiuri Shimbun reports.

According to JAXA, the next-generation model currently in design — dubbed HTV-X — will be able to separate control systems units such as engines from its main body after docking at the ISS.

The engines will be equipped with observational devices so the spacecraft can leave the ISS and orbit as a satellite.

After that, the spacecraft itself will be used as an Earth observation satellite or to monitor space debris, which includes pieces of broken satellites. It will also be able to re-dock with the ISS.

JAXA is considering adding other functions, including for returning capsules containing experiment samples to Earth and connecting the spacecraft with a probe device to depart for other astronomical objects.

At the New Space Conference in June, NanoRacks Founder Jeffrey Manber said his company had signed a Space Act Agreement with NASA focused on using cargo ships for experiments and other uses after they leave the space station. I asked it about it after his talk, and he mentioned the HTV as one of the vehicles the company was looking to use.

  • Vladislaw

    Wow! I didn’t know they were this serious. They were one of the seven countries that signed an MOU with Bigelow Aerospace. They will have a hell of a cargo ship ready to go once Boeing starts commercial passenger services.

  • Kapitalist

    Combining a cargo ship with an Earth observation satellite?
    Why not fly around catching Pokémons?

  • ReSpaceAge

    This is exciting.
    About time we quit using good spaceships as just garbage cans.

    Maybe it should be designed to release and burn up a trash bag before it flies off to do its satellite thing?

  • This is rather exciting. Whenever the established players invest in further LEO/space station/commercial capabilities, it makes me think this time will actually stick. I wonder what JAXA/MHI see as the future of this vehicle. It would be fascinating to get the inside view of these things.

  • therealdmt

    They first mentioned developing a return capsule portion years ago now, but that got cancelled with a reorganization and reprioritization a few years ago. I’m glad to see this idea being revived! With SpaceX and hopefully soon DreamChaser having significant cargo return capability, the need isn’t what it once was, but it would be a nice step forward for Japan and further enhance their capabilities as an international partner.

    This new independent satellite component idea might have commercial applicability too. Here’s hoping they see this through

  • JamesG

    A competitor with Lock-Mart’s “Jupiter” concept?

  • Hug Doug

    The pressurized and unpressurized cargo sections would still be released to burn up in the atmosphere on reentry. Only the engines section would remain in orbit.

  • Vladislaw

    I like the idea of more down cargo capability. It would allow for faster returns of experiment results allowing faster iterations. I wonder if any of the partners can return down cargo with any of the partner’s down cargo vehicles?

    This would really be great that ALL down cargo vehicles are commercial enities that just sell the service to who ever needs cargo going down.

  • Yeah, contrary to what NASA has been saying, it turns out that EVERYONE may be working on fuel depots! (Jupiter, new HTV, new Progress, etc.) This will be a VERY interesting space century.

  • So here’s a question: This is obviously timed to coincide with the initial flight(s) of the H3. Has anyone seen any (official) performance numbers on that vehicle?

    From what I can tell, both H3 and HTV-X are both marketed as cost reduction efforts. BUT, the H3 is going to the full diameter (5.2m) along it’s length – which should give it more throw capacity. Whenever they do these redesign efforts, they try to squeeze more performance out, but I’m not seeing any numbers I can trust about extra up-mass. Thoughts?

  • Hug Doug

    If you can’t trust JAXA, who can you trust?


    Unfortunately, I don’t understand Japanese.

  • JamesG

    The cargo sections are the cheap parts of a spacecraft. But he has a point. Why dispose of a perfectly good pressure hull when your tug section could take a bag or net of trash onto a deorbit trajectory and then reboost itself back to the station pretty cheaply.

    Obviously the ISS can’t retain all the pressure modules that it regularly gets, but future LEO platforms could/should.

  • Paul451

    They were one of the seven countries that signed an MOU with Bigelow Aerospace.

    Why do you keep repeating that crap? Japan hasn’t signed an MOU with Bigelow.

  • Vladislaw

    “In October 2010, Bigelow announced that it has agreements with six sovereign nations to utilize the on-orbit facilities of the commercial space station: United Kingdom, Netherlands, Australia, Singapore, Japan and Sweden.[18] A seventh country signed on in February 2011: the United Arab Emirate of Dubai.[19]”


  • Paul451

    We’ve been over this before, it’s not true. Only the UAE space program has signed a MOU with Bigelow.

    I chased up the Australian authorities as far as I could (short of paying a couple of grand for a formal multi-jurisdiction FOIA “full document search”), and no-one — from the Science Minister’s office, to the head of our main government science agency, CSIRO — has ever heard of an MOU with Bigelow, nor even any discussions with them (and some had never heard of Bigelow at all).

    The “six sovereign nations” claim all traces back to a single bogus article on space.com, that had no sources, and whose author responds to questions by directing inquiries to Bigelow PR (then Mike Gold), who ignored my questions about it.

    You know all this, we’ve been over it a dozen times before. Why do you keep repeating it?

  • windbourne

    Or ULA’s AXES.

    I have to wonder how soon before SpaceX jumps on this line and turns their stage 2 into something interesting. Heck, just sending a falcon heavy up as a fuel depot would allow them to turn a number of their F9’s second stage into a tug.

  • Vladislaw

    Then gosh Paul .. go into the every wiki page that contains this “misinformation” and edit it out.. and when Robert Bigelow publically says they signed a MOU inform HIM that he didn’t actually get them signed.

  • Paul451

    and when Robert Bigelow publically says they signed a MOU

    Except he didn’t do that. The “six sovereign nations” claim did not come from Bigelow himself. There’s no press release, no public statement, no record anywhere of him or his company making such a claim.

    It appears to have been invented from whole cloth by Leonard David.

    Every one of the three actual MOUs that Bigelow has signed can be individually verified from multiple sources. I can tell you who signed the damn things, I can tell you what they said at the signing, I can link to multiple sources, including press releases from the three organisations.

    But the 2010 claim? The “six nations”? Nothing. Bupkis. Nada.