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.

Photographer Catches ATV-4’s Fiery Plunge Through the Atmosphere

UPDATE: Editor’s note: Here’s a story that we’ve updated a couple of times, and now it ultimately has a happy ending. We originally posted a picture from Oliver Broadie who thought he captured an image of the ATV-4 Albert Einstein right before it burned up in the atmosphere. That image, see below, was ultimately determined to be of the International Space Station and not the ATV-4, so yesterday we pulled the image and explained why. But now, thanks to a great discussion between the photographer and satellite tracker Marco Langbroek (see it in the comment section), they have determined that Oliver actually did capture the ATV-4 in a subsequent image taken about 4 minutes later. Thanks to both Ollie and Marco for analyzing the timing and images. Also, we were in error for saying that the image showed the ATV-4 burning up in the atmosphere. That was my mistake (Nancy).

And you can now actually see images of ATV-4’s fiery plunge taken by the ISS astronauts here — Nancy Atkinson, Senior Editor.

Universe Today reader Oliver Broadie captured this shot of the International Space Station, shot from Sukhothai, Thailand. Just a few minutes later, the ATV-4 flew by at a lower altitude. Credit: Oliver Broadie
Universe Today reader Oliver Broadie captured this shot of the International Space Station, shot from Sukhothai, Thailand. Just a few minutes later, the ATV-4 flew by at a lower altitude. Credit: Oliver Broadie

Each Automated Transfer Vehicle series ferries cargo to the International Space Station, stays attached for a few months to do routine boosts to the station’s altitude, then leaves with a haul of trash to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.

ATV-4 Albert Einstein backs away from the space station after five months in space. It burned up in the Earth's atmosphere Nov. 2, 2013. Credit: ESA/NASA
ATV-4 Albert Einstein backs away from the space station after five months in space. It burned up in the Earth’s atmosphere Nov. 2, 2013. Credit: ESA/NASA

Albert Einstein carried a record 5,467 pounds (2,480 kg) of cargo for its type of vehicle and also brought away the most garbage of the series of vehicles. It did six reboosts of the ISS’ altitude and among its precious cargo was a GPS antenna for Japan’s Kibo laboratory as well as a water pump for Europe’s Columbus laboratory, according to the European Space Agency.

The cargo ship undocked from the space station on Oct. 28 after five months in space. It burned up Nov. 2 at 12:04 GMT within sight of the astronauts. The next of the series, Georges Lemaitre, is in French Guiana for a launch aboard an Ariane 5 rocket that will take place in June 2014.

The ATVs are just one of many space trucks that visit the International Space Station. Check out this recent article on cargo ships past and present to see other ones that ferry stuff into space.