European ‘Edoardo Amaldi’ Cargo Ship Launches To Space Station
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The European Space Agency (ESA) launched its third Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV-3) today at 1:34 p.m. local time (12:34 a.m. EDT/4:34 GMT) from the Kourou launch site in French Guiana aboard an Ariane 5 rocket.
The “Edoardo Amaldi” spacecraft, named in honor of the Italian physicist who is regarded as one of the father´s of European spaceflight, is on its way to rendezvous with the International Space Station (ISS) carrying more than 7 tons of propellant, food, water and other supplies to the six crew members aboard the orbiting lab.
The ship is also carrying experiments and spare parts for the space lab. ATV-3 will also reboost the station´s orbit while it is attached for around five months.
ATV-3 is the third in a series of five planned supply ship space launches from the ESA to the ISS. This was the first vessel to have been processed and launched within the target rate of one per year. Roughly an hour and a half after launch, the ATV-3 deployed its solar arrays, which generate power from sunlight.
Like the previous ATV crafts, launched in 2008 and 2011, the Edoardo Amaldi will conduct a slow, methodical journey to the ISS guided by ESA engineers at the ATV Control Center in Toulouse, France.
“This is the start of a long journey; there will be other critical phases, especially the rendezvous [with the ISS] that will take place during the night of the 28th and 29th, Paris time,” said Jean-Jacques Dordain, ESA´s Director General.
Edoardo Amaldi will dock automatically with the Russian Zvezda service module. NASA TV will cover the docking sequence, which should begin around 5:45 p.m. on March 28.
“ATV-3 demonstrates Europe´s capacity to deliver regular high-profile missions to support demanding crewed spaceflight operations, in coordination with our international partners,” said Dordain.
The ATV space trucks are part of a barter arrangement the ESA has with its International partners, which include Russia, Japan, Canada, and the United States, on the ISS project. Instead of giving up cash to cover running costs of the lab, Europe has taken on the major role of platform logistics. In return, it gets residency for its astronauts — one individual to spend six months aboard the ISS every few years.
ESA´s current astronaut, Dutchman Andre Kuipers, will be on hand at the ISS to help unload the craft when it docks.
ATV-3 is ferrying the largest-ever hauled load of dry cargo to the station — which includes clothing, hygienic supplies, and even Lego kits that astronauts use for educational demonstrations while onboard the ISS.
The cargo also includes components for new scientific experiments and an American unit to recycle drinking water and urine.
One of the key missions ATV will perform while docked with the ISS is to push the lab into a higher orbit to counteract the tendency of the station to drift back to Earth as it drags through the residual atmosphere still present at that altitude.
“The ISS has a natural decay per day of 50-100m right now,” Nico Dettmann, who runs ESA´s ATV program, explained to BBC News. “We plan nine re-boosts of the station in the course of the mission.”
“We are proud that ESA is providing the most sophisticated vehicle servicing the Space Station,” said Thomas Reiter, ESA´s Director of Human Spaceflight and Operations.
“Based on the capabilities and know-how that ESA and European industry developed in the context of the ATV program, we have now the opportunity to further evolve this technology. This will open up a wide range of opportunities for us to contribute to future ventures in space exploration.”
ESA has two more planned ATV missions to the ISS — one in 2013 and another in 2014. These remaining ships will fulfill ESA´s commitments through 2016, after which Europe must work on how it will meet its commitments up to 2020, the current planned limit for operations on the orbiting platform.
One solution that has been suggested is that ATV´s service module be evolved into a tug ship that can carry the manned Orion capsule, currently under develop by American engineers, to go beyond the space station, to places like Mars.
“There are different opportunities under consideration,” said Michael Menking from Astrium, the pan-European space company that leads the production of ATVs from Bremen, Germany.
“ATV has a programmatic duty to pay the ISS operation obligation to the Americans. Therefore, it is very important that whatever we do as an evolution of ATV, it can be bartered with the Americans. And that means they have to agree to it,” he told Jonathan Amos at BBC News.
An ESA study codenamed VAC (Versatile Autonomous Concept), is also in development. The study is looking into the idea of deploying a large spacecraft derived from the ATV that could perform various activities in Low-Earth Orbit, such as docking with outmoded satellites and pulling them out of orbit.
ESA has also been working on two new rocket systems at its Kourou spaceport — a European version of the Russian Soyuz rocket, which the ESA plans to use to launch satellites and scientific payloads; and the Vega rocket, which will launch smaller satellites.
Go to http://www.esa.int/ATV for more information on ESA℠s ATV missions.
Image Caption: On Friday 23 March 2012, Ariane 5 VA205 with the third Automated Transfer Vehicle Edoardo Amaldi lifted off from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana. Credits: ESA – S. Corvaja, 2012