Goodbye Jules Verne: ATV Undocks From Station

Europe’s most advanced robotic spaceship, the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), has effectively ended its 6-month mission to the International Space Station (ISS). It successfully undocked today (Friday) at 21:29 GMT to begin its slow 3 week journey toward the Earth’s atmosphere where it is set for re-entry on September 29th. This was the first ever ATV to be launched and was named after the 19th Century novelist, Jules Verne; another four ATVs are scheduled for construction. Jules Verne’s re-entry is set for night time over an uninhabited region of the Pacific Ocean and NASA will use this opportunity to monitor the fireball so the characteristics of re-entering spacecraft can be studied…

It might seem like a waste – after all, the ATV cost 1.3 billion euros or 1.9 billion dollars to build – but Jules Verne was designed to be a single-use, disposable resupply ship for the space station. However, its duties as a supply ship weren’t restricted to grocery deliveries. After it was launched in March, the ATV underwent a series of tests in space to prepare it for arrival at the station on April 3rd. When attached to the station, the ATV surpassed all expectations and performed many tasks that hadn’t been considered by mission control. Although the ATV provided a valuable re-boost option for the station (four times in total), it also provided the thrust to slow the ISS down to avoid a chunk of satellite debris in August. The ship was also a welcome retreat for the crew of the station, giving them a roomy volume for recreation and cleaning chores. I think Jules Verne will be sorely missed.

So, like the Russian Progress 29 resupply ship that was dropped from the station on Wednesday, Jules Verne was packed up with several tonnes of trash and unwanted equipment from the ISS and jettisoned into space.

The ATV will now use its remaining fuel to park its 13.5 tonne mass in a new orbit for the following three weeks before it is commanded to drop from orbit and begin re-entry. Jules Verne’s fiery suicide will happen at night so scientists can gain an insight into how large objects behave when they burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere. To monitor the event, NASA will deploy two aircraft with radar, UV and other sensors to track the incoming ATV.

Even though our schedule has been very busy at the ATV Control Centre, I couldn’t have wished for a better mission,” – Herve Come, ESA’s ATV lead mission director.

Sources: ESA, AFP

31 Replies to “Goodbye Jules Verne: ATV Undocks From Station”

  1. I remember it being said that there were original Jules Verne manuscripts aboared for the occasion. I hope they remembered to remove those, before they threw it away. 😉

  2. “It seems like a waste.” The level of stupidity displayed is overwhelming! Our NASA morons want to study how a large object burns up in the atmosphere? Their collective thinking is laughable. There is no rationale for their very expensive wastefulness. Change in that (thought bankrupt) agency can’t come soon enough.

  3. Given that the Atlantis is going up there in a few days, wouldn’t it be cost-efficient to dock the Atlantis to the ISS and stuff the ATV in their cargo-hold?

  4. It’s too good a name for a re-supply ship to just be thworn away. I think they should keep the name as a series of vehicles so we could have the Jules Verne v1.1 for the next one.

    Very sad 🙁

  5. @Per
    As far as I can remember, Atlantis is going nowhere near the ISS so I suppose it goes also to quite a different orbit then the ATV will take. Besides, why would you want to save a garbage bin? 😉 At any rate, there is not much use for it now because you probably can’t reuse it anyway. Also, NASA is probably interested in keeping the orbiter as light as possible during the reentry to lower the energy they need to dissipate during the breaking in the atmosphere.


  6. @Chuck Lam
    ATV was never designed for anything else than delivery and burn up. It is expensive since every model is expensive the first time you field it. ATV is ESA’s first foray into this kind of stuff so they had to design everything from scratch. Thinking ahead, they also used this opportunity to develop techniques and technologies that are a bit overkill for this project but will be used later on in more advanced applications.

    Choosing that particular time of day to enter the Earth’s atmosphere is just one more way of seizing the opportunity to learn something more. Since ATV is going to burn up anyway it might just be made to do it in such a way as to learn yet something more.

    As to NASA and them being morons has very little to do with ATV since NASA wasn’t really involved in the design and production of this vehicle. Accidentally what’s so stupid about wanting to collect more engineering data on a new spaceship? That’s actually NASA’s job.


  7. LOL!

    I find it a blast that people are complaining at the wastefulness of NASA because an ESA vehicle is being trashed as planned.

    As my lough ebbs away, I figure I might as well remaind y’all that far, far dumber than sending the vehicle to burn in the atmosphere is doing what has been done way too often: leave it in orbit indefinitely, as a memorial to the insufficencies of human technology and as a navigational hazard for working spacecraft, crewed or not. That’s where the real stupidity lies, not in sending the craft into the atmosphere when it’s useful life has come to an end.

    The sad truth is that we still don’t have enough of a space station to be able to recycle the litter produced in it. Far from it. The ISS is way too small, way too underequipped, way insufficient for that. So the trash has to be dumped. And an experimental spacecraft also should be dumped, not only to avoid space cluttering and navigational hazards but also because, yes, it’s useful to have experimental data on how that specific “large object” burns in the atmosphere. Because that specific large object is different from all the others and might one day be retrofitted for human use.

    So, bye bye, Jules Verne. You’ve been a wonderful success of a space ship. Your namesake would be hugely proud of you.

  8. @Per:

    Lets see… in theory…

    Shutle cargo hold: 4.6 meters by 13.3 meters, 25000 kilograms max.

    ATV: 4.5 meters by 10.3 meters, 13500 kilograms.

    Damn! That could just about fit 🙂

    In that case the shuttle is a lot bigger than I expected!!!

  9. Rather than either throwing it away to become space junk OR deorbited, could it have been left attached to the station? As the story points out, the astronauts benefitted from the extra room. NASA is using shuttle launches to expand the ISS at high cost and risk. Since the ISS and the ATV were designed to work together, why couldn’t they be used as permanent station elements? Mass launched to orbit is far too precious to be thrown away.

  10. @Jo

    It could, but that would create two problems:

    1 – what to do with the trash the ATV is bringing down with it. After all, it couldn’t stay in the station… and you can’t just jetison it out of the ISS. Everything thrown out of a spacecraft remains in orbit (at least for a while) and becomes a hazard.

    2 – extra weight in the ISS that would make future orbit changing maneouvres more demanding in terms of fuel.

  11. @Jo & @Jorge
    Well, there is more. ATV is not designed to be a permanent part of the ISS. It’s like attaching a mobile home to a house or actually building a new room. The ATV is fun (e.g. it’s much quieter since it uses more modern fans then the rest of the ISS) but it can’t work as a permanent ISS module in the long run. Once its fuel is used up it will not be able to help out with the reboosts (and “deboosts” for that matter) either. It also takes up the only docking port the other ATV:s can attach to. Even without the ATV:s the docking ports on the Russian side are oftentimes in great demand so Joules Verne would be just in the way.

    If you were to modify the ATV to be a suitable permanent addition to the ISS you would end up with another Columbus module and that’s obviously been done before.


  12. Adam, re:

    It also takes up the only docking port the other ATV:s can attach to.

    Are you sure about this? I think I’ve read somewhere that the ATVs, because they are meant to stay docked for a long time, had docking ports at the front and back. I assumed this meant they would be able to dock to eachother, if needed.

    Still, with the next ATV flight scheduled only for 2010, this wouldn’t be relevant for a while.

  13. Apparently, there was a study following NASA’s decision to retire the space shuttle to adapt/modify the ATV design for other uses. One of the propositions was the Mini Space Station (MSS) which would comprise an ATV design with two docking ports. This has so far not lead to any concrete work. See [] for more details. Anyway, Joule Verne is not equipped with an aft docking port. It’s like I said, The ATV project is meant to be a stepping stone to more advanced applications. That’s why it’s a bit more then just a cargo ship.


  14. I have an idea for the garbage. Put a mass driver on the ISS that can shoot the garbage towards the earth to give the station a boost when needed. The high speed will cause the garbage to reenter quickly and burn up so it won’t be a hazard. This would be powered off of the solar panels so it’s essentially free rocket fuel.

    So let’s say 100 m/s squared times ten tons would move the finished station weighing about a million tons about 0.3 m/s. That’s a nice gentle push to move the entire station about as fast as my grandma can walk. This would move the station 26 km in a day so the velocity of the garbage projectiles (projectilage?) could probably be scaled back from my initial calculation.

    Of course empty vodka bottles and broken toilet seats aren’t easily accelerated so they would have to be put into metal pods. I would propose then that those metal boxes in the shuttle, and probably the ESA ATV, that they use to tie everything down in for launching into space could be used as the pods for shooting the garbage back down into the atmosphere. Alternatively, if NASA likes their shuttle boxes, then the garbage could be wrapped in relatively light weight wire mesh that could be accelerated in the mass driver.

  15. Retard… You cannot simply “shoot” something off the space station. First, ballistic projections don’t work quite the same way in space, and second without major modifications to the station, it would put it into a perpendicular axis spin. To either correct it or keep it from happening would require a great deal of fuel and thrusting engines the ISS doesn’t have.

    When it comes to increasing or changing orbit, you obviously have a lot to learn about orbital dynamics as well. One sudden burst would increase the orbit on the opposite side of Earth, but the shuttle would end up in the exact same spot once it returned on the originating side; “floating” an orbit to another location is a lot more complicated than you think (not to mention the fuel required to do so).

  16. The garbage part I understand. That has to go somehow. But what about this “unwanted equipment”? Why can’t this be brought back on the shuttle? Here is the real waste in my opinion.

  17. To: Adam, The collection of engineering data is paramount in any research project. Destroying usable materials that could contribute directly to the on going very expensive construction of the ISS is totally insane. The think-tank amateurs who came up with this ATV destruction idea wouldn’t last a week on my payroll.

  18. @Chuck Lam
    The idea of “destroying” ATV is part of the design. See it as a European answer to Progress only way more advanced. My point is that once all the consumables are used up there are not many “usable materials” left. One could argue that they should have built a lab or hab module from the start but that wasn’t in the ISS specs for now and ESA has already done it once in Columbus module. ATV is really a start of a longterm project for things like autonomous spacecraft and on-orbit construction. ATV is *not* a self contained system it’s just a first step. As it turns out, ISS primarily needs cargo capabilities right now so ESA build an autonomous transport ship. That’s the way I understand it all.


  19. To: Adam, My not being privy to all the complex detail an informed opinion should be based on, I can’t honestly debate your points of view. It simply appears to me that the people who develop our national space agenda and the designers including the engineers who make it happen should be thinking more like Henry Ford rather than an agency with a bottomless-pit of money. I think we could do a lot better managing our resources. On the other hand, maybe I’m naive in missing the military significance our space program.

  20. Chuck, I’m curious.

    You do know that ESA is not an american agency, don’t you? That it has absolutely nothing to do with “your national space agenda”? Don’t you?

  21. @Chuck Lam
    I think, one ought to keep in mind that both NASA and ESA are not your regular businesses. They should probably not imitate Henry Ford and other distinguished business leaders too much. The two are “national” agencies (I’m treating Europe as sort of a nation, it’s just semantics at this point). They are supposed to do things no business would dare to do. The main difference is that tax financed organizations try to do as much as possible for the money they get. That’s why the shuttle, ISS, ATV and others are so complex: they have to be so many things to so many people. In commercial enterprises you usually make small steps to make sure it really works in order to convince the investors to give some more money. That’s why Bigelow, Scaled, SpaceX etc. work on their development projects so much before any new step/release to make sure it makes good impression on the guys with the money. Obviously, it doesn’t always work but the important thing is to point to at least some success.


  22. There is a mentality left over from Apollo… use something until you don’t need it, then jettison it. No doubt that was the only feasible was to go the moon. (and return, of course)

    But supplying the ISS, going to the moon again,etc. might be something we can do differently now. Take a moon lander into space, bring it back to earth orbit near the ISS and leave it there for refueling. Why design a vehicle for single use only?

    Re the mass driver on the ISS. A few times during spacewalks astronauts threw things from the ISS into orbits that led them to re-entry. So it can be done! I imagine it would boost the ISS too….

  23. To: Jorge, I thought the ESA is under contract to NASA providing ATVs, thus, from my point of view, our ATV tax dollars burning up in the atmosphere. It’s painful to admit ignorance. So be it.
    To: Adam, Maybe NASA and ESA should consider operating like Ford did after the turn of the last century. My sense is the world space programs just might be operated more efficiently and economically. Ford succeeded, and I dislike this term, “thinking outside the box” in his management of design and materials. Concerning your investor comment, I suspect my thinking is affected on the issue of investors because I have never needed to convince anyone for project money. The space effort waste I perceive just might be real and perhaps should be simply regarded as a premium the world must pay for scientific advancement.

  24. I have this pcture in my mind of an astronaut sitting outside the space station, tossing trash overboard… maybe a little tennis practice. It gives a whole new slant on taking out the trash…

  25. The ISS is governed by a multi-layered international treaty, if I understand correctly. That in itself makes the ISS a complex device subject to the whims of policy making. A treaty written one day is the broken treaty of another. There is some validity to the argument that effeciency is in our best interest, as we are a partner of the program; it is in our best interest to evaluate the costs of maintenance (whether or not we directly incur them) as we are a partner in the venture. The Jules Verne issue is simply a reflection of the larger issue of maintaining the project in the long term. The US consistently evaluates programs using a “current political climate” mentality, meaning that they submit budget projections that potentially exceed the term/election cycle of elected officials. Granted, NASA recognizes some cooperation with private enterprise insofar as the ISS is concerned. Nevertheless, a majority of funding comes from taxpayers, which is subject to change. The larger issue is evaluating the costs of maintaining the ISS, both from US investments and other countries’ investments. Jules Verne must be factored into such evaluation. The US is in an unstable economic climate that potentially could undermine future space investment dollars. I imagine that at some point the servicing modules such as Jules Verne will factor into someone’s consciousness as to whether future commitments are honored to a 10-year-old treaty.

  26. NASA, ESA and a few other agencies are partners in the ISS. I don’t know what the specifics of financial arrangements are, but everybody pays for the station. The developement of the ATV was payed by the european states that are members of ESA, and at least most of its operational costs should be also payed by ESA. After all, it’s an ESA vehicle and ESA has every interest in cooperating, yes, but keeping its autonomy. Some money transfers should happen, though: if the ATV carries NASA payloads, it’s only logical that NASA pays for the ride. That’s business as usual in the space industry. In any case, the vehicle itself is european property, payed by the europeans.

    So, I’d wager there’s much more of my ATV tax euros there than your ATV tax dollars. And I’m all for it. You need to invest money in experimental vehicles if you later want to have a tested, reliable, and profitable infrastructure to base future developments on.

    One additional bit of food for thought: have you ever considered that you have to spend a whole lot of money to put stuff in orbit, but you also have to spend a whole lot of money if you want to bring it back to Earth in one piece? Have you ever imagined that perhaps the perceived wastfulness of letting sophisticated equipment burn is indeed a sound financial option? After all, NASA spends much, much, much more money in the reusable shuttle program than all the other spacefaring nations combined with their discardable 1-use vehicles.

    Space is a fundamentally different medium. Everything behaves differently. Up there you can’t think was you would down here.

  27. “Space is a fundamentally different medium. Everything behaves differently. Up there you can’t think [as] you would down here.”

    That’s why we need to send our elected officials to space. Of course, I’m assuming that this would lead to a positive outcome in their decision making skills. The zero gravity conditions could alter their brain-wave activity, leading them to make space research and development a top priority. Of course, we would need to leave them in space to preserve their newfound skills. That would cost serious cash, considering the habits of the average political creature. But seriously, the US’s issue is a “perfect storm” of economic conditions. Mounting debt (including annual defecit spending), potentially and drastically different (and expensive) policy agendas from the election cycle, and conflicting objectives (including military and domestic spending) all lead to the same uncertainties for NASA. They have ambitious goals but are unrealistic in terms of the overall US budget…The average elected official will see the cost of a Jules Verne and freak out. I do agree, it’s probably the most cost-effective means of servicing…but the person crunching the numbers only sees dollar signs. That’s why I say we gamble and send them all to space.

  28. Ok guys, I get it! The ISS is “governed by a complex multi-layered international treaty.” That pretty much explains everything I’ve been moaning about. Damn! This takes all the fun out of my NASA critique.

  29. Actually, there’s no such thing as another Jules Verne. That was it. That particular ATV was christened Jules Verne and I suppose the next one will receive some other name. It would be nice if they kept on with the Science Fiction pioneers’ theme, calling the next one H.G.Wells, the third oh, I dunno, Mary Shelley, or something, and so on.

    Regarding the budget, US budget for space, and in fact science in general, is a fly dropping compared with the US budget for the military. You’ll excuse me if I shed no tears regarding current american budgetary difficulties.

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