A fire erupted at the base of a Japanese H-2B rocket on Tuesday in the final preparations for the launch of an HTV cargo ship at the International Space Station (ISS). Torrent water was sprayed on the pad and the fire eventually extinguished, but the launch postponed the pending inspections and worked to figure out what could be repaired.
The cause of the explosion was not immediately known, but a spokesman for rocket manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, said no one was injured. The HTV freight ship, which carries replacement batteries for the ISS solar system and 2.5 tons of crew equipment and equipment, suffered no damage.
But open fire near a rocket filled with nearly 400,000 pounds of liquid hydrogen and oxygen propellant, along with four solid fuel strap-ons, was potentially catastrophic ̵
The Liftoff from the picturesque Tanegashima Space Center, just south of Japan's southern Kyushu island, is targeted for 5:33 pm EDT (6:33 a.m. Wednesday local time).
A live YouTube feed showing the rocket on the launching pad appeared normal until around 2:05 p.m. EDT (3:05 a.m. local time) when a bright orange fire broke out at or near the base of the rocket. Moments later, water jets began to soak in the booster end and its mobile launch stand.
Hydrogen fuel can burn uncontrollably, and water continues to flow properly after the fire has been extinguished. More than 90 minutes after the incident began, a Japanese loudspeaker announced that "we are trying to extinguish a fire." cargo ships. Space space is currently well supplied and the delay in getting the HTV-8 cargo to the lab complex is not expected to cause any difficulties for the crew.
But Tuesday's delayed delay, depending on how long the rocket had been wrapped, threatened to throw a wrench on a tight schedule aboard the ISS.
The station is preparing for two and maybe three spacewalks to install six new HTV-delivered batteries, the third of four sets needed to replace older, less efficient batteries in the lab's solar power system.
Battery replacement spacewalks are expected to start later this month, sandwiched between the arrival of three fresh crew members aboard a Soyuz ferry ship September 25, the departure of three others October 3 and the first of five and perhaps six spacewalks during November to arrange a high-energy physics experiment known as the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer.
Northrop Grumman plans to launch a Cyg nus cargo ship October 21 followed by a SpaceX resupply mission in early December. Against that backdrop, Boeing is preparing its CST-100 Starliner crew ferry ship for a long-awaited nonstop flight to the station this past fall or early winter.