After Monday Morning Departure, Albert Einstein Plans Return Home
October 28, 2013

After Monday Morning Departure, Albert Einstein Plans Return Home

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

“Albert Einstein” had a good run in space, but now it is time to return home.

Technically known as the ESA’s fourth Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV-4), Albert Einstein has been docked with the International Space Station (ISS) since June. After a successful release from the orbiting lab’s Zvezda service module at 4:55 a.m. EDT Monday morning, it will begin making the voyage back to Earth.

The departure of Einstein sets the stage for the crew aboard the ISS to relocate a Soyuz spacecraft currently docked at the station. The Expedition 37 crew will also soon be welcoming a new trio of astronauts. Now that Einstein has undocked, it will soon begin its journey back to Earth, reentering the atmosphere in five days.

The Expedition 37 crew members Luca Parmitano and Oleg Kotov oversaw the automated departure of Einstein from a control panel inside Zvezda, and were ready to take over the controls if needed. Meanwhile Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and Flight Engineer Mike Hopkins photographed Einstein as it departed the ISS. The photography was conducted to capture images of the docking assembly and sensors at the forward end of the freighter.

When launched in June, Einstein delivered precious cargo to the ISS, and reboosted the lab’s orbit during its stay. After doing so, the freighter was reloaded with unused equipment and waste to be returned to Earth. However, unlike SpaceX’s Dragon resupply vessel, which can make full returns to Earth, allowing for retrieval of goods, Einstein will burn up in the atmosphere upon reentry.

This morning’s undocking was heralded as a special event due to the fact that Einstein is not making an immediate return to Earth. After the early morning procedure, the freighter is being instructed by ATV Control Centre in Toulouse, France to perform delicate maneuvers over the next several days to position the craft directly below the space station.

After the procedures are done and Einstein is in place at about 72 miles below the ISS, it will be instructed to make its descent to Earth on Saturday, November 2, giving astronauts aboard the station a bird’s-eye view of the descent and disintegration of Einstein over the southern Pacific Ocean. The procedure is expected to provide valuable information to calibrate future spacecraft reentry missions.

“This mission has gone without a hitch and is an excellent performance by the operations team at the control centre and our industrial partners that built the machine,” said ATV-4’s mission manager, Alberto Novelli.

“To close the mission with such a delicate but spectacular operation is a fitting end to all the hard work of the people involved,” added Jean-Michel Bois, who heads the operations team at the control centre.

With the success of the ATV-4 mission, the ESA has one more scheduled ATV launch to the ISS. ATV-5, which will be designated “Georges Lemaitre.” It is scheduled to launch in mid-2014 for a six-month mission.

Next on tap for the six-person crew of the Space Station is the repositioning of a Soyuz spacecraft to allow for another scheduled docking in the coming weeks.

NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio, JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata and Russian Federal Space Agency cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin will be joining the full house, docking their Soyuz TMA-11M spacecraft to the Rassvet module on November 7. This will bring the occupancy number of the space station to nine crew members, working and living together for just three days, after which Luca Parmitano, Karen Nyberg and Fyodor Yurchikhin depart to return home on November 10, after five months in space. Their departure will signal the end of Expedition 37 and the beginning of Expedition 38 under the command of Oleg Kotov.