By Irene Klotz
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) - An unmanned H-2B rocket blasted off from Tanegashima island in southern Japan on Friday to send a cargo ship to the International Space Station, a NASA TV broadcast showed.
The delivery of about 4.5 tons (4,100 kg) of supplies for the six-member station crew took on fresh urgency after a botched Russian cargo run on Dec. 1 and additional delays returning NASA contractor SpaceX to flight following an unrelated accident.
The rocket, carrying Japan’s HTV-6 cargo ship, blasted off at 8:26 a.m. EST (1326 GMT), flying over the Pacific Ocean on its way to space. The capsule is due to reach the station, a $100 billion laboratory flying about 250 miles (400 km) above Earth, on Tuesday.
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In addition to food and supplies, the capsule is delivering six lithium-ion batters and adapter plates, weighing about 3,000 pounds (1,360 kg), which are needed for a planned upgrade of the station’s electrical system. The batteries will be installed during upcoming space walks, said NASA launch commentator Dan Huot.
Japan’s HTV capsules are one of four supply ships that fly to the station, a project of 15 nations. However, two of the four freighters are currently grounded following accidents.
A Russian Soyuz rocket failed to put a Progress capsule into orbit on Dec. 1 due to a problem with the booster's third-stage engine. The capsule burned up as it fell back into Earth's atmosphere, with debris crashing to the ground.
Tech billionaire Elon Musk's SpaceX is recovering from a launch pad explosion on Sept. 1 that destroyed a Falcon 9 rocket and a $200 million Israeli communications satellite. SpaceX now expects to return to flight in January.
(Reporting by Irene Klotz; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)