In many ways, being a rocket scientist has never been better. Half a century on from the golden age of rockets and moon landings, the space race is back. And the sector is awash with funding: VC investments alone surged to a record $1.8 billion dollars last year, according to data from the Tauri Group (pdf, pg iv).
The next time an H-IIB rocket launches from the island of Tanegashima in southern Japan, it will carry a cargo craft bound for the International Space Station (ISS). The H-II Transfer Vehicle, or HTV, weighs 10,500 kilograms (11.6 tons) and can carry about 6,000 kilograms (6.6 tons) worth of supplies for the astronauts aboard the ISS. This massive, cutting-edge spaceship plays an important role in the life of the orbiting station, but its development can be traced back to one man and one little object.
Early on a rainy February morning, on the seaside launch pad of a remote Japanese island, Mitsubishi H-IIA rocket No. 30 is awaiting its rendezvous with destiny. Once successfully placed into orbit, a satellite began its mission in space while far below the rocket launch team celebrated yet another in a growing list of successful launches.