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Europe's ATV delivers supplies to the space station

Charles Black, Founder and CEO of Sen
Mar 28, 2012, 23:00 UTC

Toulouse, France (Sen) - Europe's third unmanned cargo ship, the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV-3) has successfully docked with the International Space Station.

The cargo, weighing over 6.5 tonnes, consists of dry goods, food, water, air and propellant for the space station. The shipment includes some fresh food for the astronauts.

Propellant is used for refuelling and reboosting the station's orbit, or re-orientating the station from time to time.

In collaboration with space station control centres in Moscow and Houston, the approach and docking with the Russian part of the space station was orchestrated by the ATV Control Centre based at the French space agency CNES in Toulouse, France. 

Launched on March 23 aboard an Ariane 5 rocket from Kourou, French Guiana, the cargo ship is the heaviest ATV to date weighing over 20 tonnes (20,100 kg). 

The ATV-3 is named Edoardo Amaldi after the Italian physicist who co-founded the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) in 1954 and the European Space Research Organisation (ESRO) - the forerunner of ESA - in 1964.

As well as delivering supplies, the ATV will also use its own thrusters to give the space station an orbital boost, required from time to time as the station's orbit falls gradually over time.

Edoardo Amaldi will remain docked to the space station for about five months. Whilst docked it will be used to collect over a tonne of trash.

VIDEO: watch the European Space Agency video on the ATV-3 docking

ATV-3 Control Centre

ATV Control Centre, Toulouse, during the docking of the third ATV Edoardo Amaldi. Credit: ESA

The ATV is a one mission only spacecraft which, along with its trash cargo, will be destroyed during a controlled re-entry. Re-entry is controlled so that destruction takes place over the south Pacific region, the least populated area of Earth. 

The Edoardo Amaldi is the third of five ATV supply ships that Europe agreed to provide as part of its commitment to the costs of the space station.

The first two ATVs, named named Jules Verne and Johannes Kepler, launched in 2008 and 2011 respectively. The fourth ATV, Albert Einstein, is currently under construction and will be shipped to the Kourou launch site later this year to be prepared for launch in March next year.

ESA annouced recently that the fifth and final ATV, due to launch in 2014, will be named after Belgian astronomer and priest Georges Lemaître.

Europe plan to develop the technology behind the ATV further for future space exploration. Thomas Reiter, ESA's Director of Human Spaceflight and Operations, said "Based on the capabilities and knowhow that ESA and European industry developed in the context of the ATV programme, 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.” 

The International Space Station is crewed by six astronauts. The ATV docking was overseen by André Kuipers and Oleg Kononenko. The station is currently commanded by Dan Burbank, and also on board are Anatoly Ivanishin, Don Pettit and Anton Shkaplerov.

The ISS orbits Earth about once every 90 minutes at a speed of approximately 28,000 kilometres per hour (17,500 mph).