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ATV Johannes Kepler Prepares For Fiery Reentry

June 18, 2011

The European Space Agency (ESA) said on Friday that a European freighter will be destroyed by atmospheric burn-up next week after completing its supply mission to mankind’s orbital outpost.

The Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) will separate from the International Space Station (ISS) on Monday and fire its engines to descend from orbit over the Pacific on Tuesday.

“Hitting the upper atmosphere, (the) ATV will tumble, disintegrate and burn, and any remains will strike the ocean at around 2050 GMT,” ESA said in a press release.

The Johannes Kepler supply ships are designed to find their own way to the ISS and dock with it automatically, providing up to 6.6 tons of food, water, oxygen, experiments and other essentials.

The ATVs use their onboard thrusters to boost the ISS, which are dragged by atmospheric molecules in low orbit.

This operation was carried out several times during the Johannes Kepler’s mission, which coincided with the visit of two U.S. shuttles, Japan’s HTV cargo carrier and two Russian spacecraft.

The ATVs are used as a spare room and storage before being laden with rubbish, human waste and unwanted hardware for their final flight.

ESA said the fiery end of the Johannes Kepler will include a “last phone call home.”

The agency wants to fine-tune its knowledge about how the cylindrical craft behaves in a controlled destruction.

A prototype “black box” called the re-entry break-up recorder will gather data on the ferry’s location, temperature, pressure and altitude as it disintegrates.

The gadget will then eject from the dying spacecraft and transmit the information through the Iridium satphone system once it reaches an altitude of 11 miles.

The Johannes Kepler is named after the German mathematician of the Age of Enlightenment.

The first ATV flew in 2008, and the third ship is due to be launched in February 2012.

Image Caption: Backdropped by the blackness of space and Earth’s horizon, the European Space Agency’s “Johannes Kepler” Automated Transfer Vehicle-2 (ATV-2) docks to the aft end of the International Space Station’s Zvezda Service Module. Credit: NASA

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