TOKYO: Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide started his third flight into space Friday evening Japan time, riding a U.S. spacecraft to head for the International Space Station.
The Crew Dragon capsule, also carrying three other astronauts, was launched on a Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in the US state of Florida at 6:49 p.m. Japan time (9:49 a.m. GMT).
Both the spacecraft and the rocket were developed by US company Space Exploration Technologies Corp., or SpaceX.
Some 12 minutes after the launch, the Crew Dragon separated from the rocket and entered orbit.
It is scheduled to dock with the ISS around 6:10 p.m. Saturday, allowing Hoshide, 52, to reunite with Soichi Noguchi, a 56-year-old Japanese astronaut who has been on the ISS since November last year.
The Crew Dragon capsule was launched into space for the second time after making its first flight with two U.S. astronauts aboard in May last year. The first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket is the one also used to send Noguchi and other astronauts to the ISS.
SpaceX launched a recycled capsule using a recycled first stage of a rocket for a manned mission for the first time. The US company collects and reuses unmanned supply vessels for the ISS and the first stages of satellite-launching rockets.
Hoshide, whose previous trip to space was made in 2012, will assume the role of ISS commander after his arrival, becoming the second Japanese to hold the post, after Koichi Wakata, 57.
During his six-month stay at the ISS, Hoshide will conduct such work as demonstration experiments on an advanced water recovery system for use in future exploration missions to the moon and Mars, protein crystallization experiments for drug development and the release of a small satellite.
He will work mainly at the Kibo Japanese experiment module of the ISS.
Noguchi and some other astronauts are scheduled to leave the ISS aboard a different Crew Dragon capsule April 28 to return to Earth. The capsule is expected to arrive in waters off Florida in the small hours of the following day.