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Unmanned ESA Craft Departing For ISS Tuesday

February 11, 2011

An Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) carrying supplies to the International Space Station (ISS) will launch from French Guiana on Tuesday, the European Space Agency (ESA) has announced.

The ATV, which has been christened in honor of German astronomer Johannes Kepler, is scheduled to lift off at 2208 GMT Tuesday and will be carrying a 20 ton cargo module–the heaviest payload ever launched by European space officials, according to a February 3 ESA press release.

“The ATV is designed to deliver fuel, food, clothing and oxygen to the ISS crew as well as spare parts and is due to dock with the ISS on February 23,” reporters from Reuters said in an article Friday. “The ATV has three times the cargo capacity of Russia’s Progress vehicle and was developed by the ESA as part of a barter arrangement with the U.S. space agency NASA.”

In a television interview cited by Reuters, ESA ATV Program Manager Nico Dettmann said that the Johannes Kepler–the second ATV craft, following 2008′s Jules Verne–features redesigned cargo racks that are each 110 pounds lighter than before.

According to the ESA, the ATV is approximately 10 meters high with a 4.5 meter diameter. It utilizes a 45 cubic meter pressurized module and a Russian docking system similar to that of a Soyuz rocket. It is said to be able to carry three-times the cargo of the Russian Progress vehicle and has a 22 meter wingspan with its solar wings deployed, the agency said in the February 3 press release.

In related ISS news, the currently docked Progress 39 cargo craft fired its thrusters on Wednesday afternoon in an attempt to raise the station’s orbit, NASA’s website reported earlier this week. The change in orbit now places the ISS at the correct altitude for the arrival of Space Shuttle Discovery, which is scheduled for February 26.

Furthermore, “Flight Engineers Dmitry Kondratyev and Oleg Skripochka tested their Russian Orlan spacesuits Thursday, activating the suits’ systems and communications gear in advance of their spacewalk scheduled for Feb. 16,” the US space agency said. “During their spacewalk, the two cosmonauts will install equipment for enhanced communications from the Russian segment of the station and remove debris panels. They also will deploy a small satellite carrying congratulatory messages celebrating the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s flight as the first human in space.”

Image Caption: Artist’s impression of the Automated Transfer Vehicle Johannes Kepler approaching the International Space Station. Credits: ESA – D. Ducros, 2010

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