Europe’s Last ATV Cargo Ship Docks Safely At Space Station

It took two weeks to get there, but all indications is it was worth the wait. The final automated transfer vehicle of the European Space Agency successfully docked with the International Space Station today (Aug. 12) at 9:30 a.m. EDT (1:30 p.m. UTC) — right on time.

The cargo vehicle has about seven tons of stuff on board, ranging from science experiments to fresh food. The astronauts always enjoy it when fruit and other new food arrives in these shipments, given so many of their meals are freeze-dried.

Also on board was a new rendezvous system manufactured by Canadian company Neptec, which is testing out new ways of docking for future cargo vehicles. And when it’s time for Georges Lemaître to leave the station around January 2015, sensors inside will monitor its planned destruction to make future cargo vehicles better equipped to survive re-entry.

Georges Lemaître left Earth July 29 from French Guiana, as did its four predecessors. The series of ATVs started in March 2008 when Jules Verne departed to resupply the Expedition 16 crew. The other vehicles were called Johannes Kepler, Edoardo Amaldi and Albert Einstein.

The new vehicle will be opened up on Wednesday. It will be a busy week for cargo vehicles at the station, as the privately constructed Cygnus spacecraft (from Orbital Sciences) is expected to leave the station on Friday at 6:40 a.m. EDT (10:40 a.m. UTC). Both Alexander Gerst (ESA) and Reid Wiseman (NASA) will release Cygnus using Canadarm2, a robotic arm on station.

6 Replies to “Europe’s Last ATV Cargo Ship Docks Safely At Space Station”

  1. The ATV has been a horrible malinvestment which has cost about 4 billion dollar. $1,800mn development costs. $300mn each manufacturing costs. $120mn each launch cost. As much as 2 Rosetta missions or 4 Gaia space telescopes. Just to partly supply 6 astronauts in LEO five times during a few years.

    The ISS doesn’t relate either to astronomy nor to space flight (as in going somewhere instead of circling Earth only 3% of an Earth diameter above sea level). Its costs should be taken from medical and materials research budgets or whatever instead of from the space agencies. If we had had a space station which simulated a space ship with artificial gravity and full recycling, then it had been relevant to space exploration. The ISS is not.

    Incredibly, the ISS doesn’t seem to have larger habitable volume onboard than Skylab did 40 years ago. Although the ISS consumed most of the space shuttle program to be built during 15 years. Skylab was in place after a single launch. Given this exponential trend of inefficiency, humanity will never again be capable of building a new space station.

    1. ATV is the largest cargo craft currently servicing the ISS. The ATV hardware is going to be reused for the Orion service module and there are a number of other evolution proposals, including a crewed vehicle and one which would allow the ESA to stand up their own (small) space station. While this doesn’t negate your points about the expense of ATV, it’s not a dead end investment and the hardware has uses beyond just the 5 supply runs to the ISS.

      Regarding your complaints about the practicality of the ISS usage: A manned space station is not an ideal platform for astronomy but the ISS was used as a platform for the AMS-02 (to study cosmic rays & dark matter.) Full recycling and other “simulated space ship” uses are constrained by budgets and existing technologies. Full water recycling is something that is being attempted on ISS and is actually quite difficult. NASA has explored different ways of testing rotating habitation modules but none have passed the budgetary hurdles to actually be deployed. Of course, if another member agency wanted to launch such a thing, I’m sure all the ISS members would be glad to have it. NASA is launching a 3D printer on board the next Dragon mission for testing in space, which should provide mass-savings in the short term and in the long term help enable robust ISRU beyond air, water & fuel.

      3) The ISS pressurized volume is 2.6 times that of Skylab. ( 837m^3 vs 319m^3) Not to mention ISS’s superior technologies and capabilities in every area.

      Yes, the ISS has been expensive. Yes, there have arguably been some missteps in the human spaceflight program. But the cost trend and efficiencies, in terms of capabilities per $, has overall been one of improvement, with bigger gains on the horizon. Spaceflight is hard. Have patience.

    2. Most of spaceflight is not about astronomy – and human spaceflight especially
      not. Personally I would like to see more astronomy missions though.
      One interesting exercise for ATV is to compare the cost/kg or cost/m^3 for the different resupply vehicles to the ISS.

      Warning: reliable cost estimates are hard to find, especially when development costs should be taken into account. When I searched the web for numbers a few months ago I came up with 1.35 G$ development cost, 300 M$ production cost and 150 M$ launch cost for the ATV. These numbers are close to yours, but not identical. Which numbers to use will always lead to discussions. Also keep in mind that different vehicles have different capabilities.

      Result: cost/kg (without development cost)
      Shuttle 27 k$, ATV 59 k$, HTV 55 k$, Dragon 40 k$, Cygnus 119 k$
      Progress is not included, as there are no cost numbers available.
      ATV is comparable to HTV, Dragon is about 1/3 cheaper,
      Cygnus is ridiculously expensive and nothing beats the Space

      With development cost this comes out at Shuttle 91 k$, ATV 94 k$, HTV 75 k$, Dragon 50 k$, Cygnus 137 k$.

      If calculated for volume as cost/cubic meter (without/with development cost):
      Shuttle 0.36/1.2 M$, ATV 9.4/15 M$, HTV 11/15 M$, Dragon 5.5/6.9 M$,
      Cygnus 12.6/14.5 M$.
      Hence by volume cost, ATV, HTV and Cygnus are comparable, Dragon costs about half and absolutely nothing even comes close to the Space Shuttle.

      So yes, ATV is expensive, but comparable to what else is currently flying.

    1. They only built 5 ATV. They have all done their thing now.
      (Does your name Kankan refer to the city Kankan?)

  2. “to make future cargo vehicles better equipped to survive re-entry”: no. To help make sure large piece DO NOT survive re-entry.

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