Saturday, February 14, 2015

Europe's ATV Departs ISS for the Final Time

The European Space Agency's Automated Transfer Vehicle(ATV) has departed the International Space Station for the final time in the programme's history.

ESA's fifth and final Automated Transfer Vehicle(ATV-5) which is named after the Belgian cosmologist George LemaƮtre, undocked from the aft port of the Zvezda Service Module of the ISS at 13:42 GMT.
ATV-5 docking with ISS last year
credit: NASA

After firing it's thrusters, ATV-5 backed away from the station as the vehicle positioned itself into a lower orbital altitude, bound for a fiery re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere.

Europe's flagship cargo spacecraft was originally scheduled to enter the Earth's atmosphere at the end of February in a new, shallow dive that would allow NASA and ESA teams the opportunity to monitor the breakup of the vehicle and learn from it's reentry. 

Unfortunately however, a failure in one of the vehicle's power chains last week led to the cancellation of the shallow reentry experiment, and George LemaƮtre will now follow the standard reentry profile just like his predecessors, and will burn up over the Pacific Ocean on Sunday evening.

ATV-5 Mission Overview

ATV-5 launched atop an Ariane rocket from the European space port in French Guiana last year as the heaviest of the five Automated Transfer Vehicles sent into space. It carried over 6,600 kg worth of supplies and experiments to the station.

Over 186 days docked to the orbiting complex, the crew on board have been busy unpacking vital equipment and in turn, have loaded ATV with rubbish and other waste. Mission controllers in the ATV Control Center in Toulouse have been sending commands to the vehicle to pump water, air and fuel into the station's tanks.

The vehicle has also been used to fire its thrusters to facilitate a change in the station's orbit for debris-avoidance purposes, and also to support the arrival of future cargo vessels by lowering the station's orbit. This enables a larger quantity of cargo to be carried to the ISS.

What's Next?

In a testament to the success of the ATV programme, NASA and ESA announced in 2014 that the flight systems used on the ATV vehicles would be used to comprise the Service Module elements of NASA's next generation spacecraft, Orion on its missions to carry astronauts to deep space.

The first flight of the ESA Service Module will take place on Orion's first flight around the Moon in 2017.

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