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European cargo freighter launched for the space station

Charles Black, Founder and CEO of Sen
Jun 6, 2013, 7:00 UTC

Sen—The European Space Agency's fouth Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), named Albert Einstein, reached orbit last night and is making its way to the International Space Station.

The ATV, an unmanned cargo truck, was blasted into orbit atop an Ariane 5 rocket that launched from the European spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana at 21.52 GMT.

At over 20 tonnes, including over 6 tonnes of supplies, this was the heaviest spacecraft ever launched by ESA. The supplies aboard Albert Einstein include 2,580 kg of propellant, 860 kg of fuel for the Russian Zvezda module, 570 kg of water for the crew, oxygen

The ATV is scheduled to dock with the International Space Station on June 15. The next ten days will be spent checking the health of the cargo freighter and achieving the correct orbit ahead of the automated docking procedure.

The ATV's automated flight technology so impressed NASA that the US space agency has agreed to use the ATV's intelligent electronic systems for a service module attached to NASA's Orion space vehicle

ESA's Director General, Jean-Jacques Dordain, said: “With another successful launch of the ATV, and another record in lifting capacity, European industry demonstrates its capacity to produce unique spacecrafts, providing ESA with a key role among the partners of the International Space Station.

“This adventure is still in the making – ATV-4 is flying but ATV-5 is following and ATV technologies will survive beyond them in promising new programmes, such as NASA’s Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle, for which ESA is developing the service module."

Once it has arrived at the ISS, the ATV will remain docked for five months. The propellant supplies aboard the cargoship will be used to boost the station's orbit from time to time, or to perform emergency manoeuvres to avoid space debris. The cargo truck is also used to store trash. When the vehicle departs, loaded with rubbish, it will burn up in the atmosphere over the Pacific during a controlled re-entry.

ATV Albert Einstein before being encased in the Ariane 5 fairing.

Europe's fourth Automated Transfer Vehicle named Albert Einstein being encased in the Ariane 5 launcher. Credit: ESA/CNES/Arianespace/Optique Video du CSG

The ATV is the fourth of five cargo freighters being supplied by the European Space Agency (ESA) as part of a barter deal by which Europe provides the cargo trucks as part of its contribution to the running costs of the space station.

The first ATV named Jules Verne launched in 2008. It was followed in 2011 by the second ATV, Johannes Kepler, and the third ATV, Edoardo Amaldi, which launched in March 2012. Edoardo Amaldi completed its mission in October last year.

The fifth and final ATV, due to launch in early 2014, has been named after Belgian astronomer and priest Georges Lemaître.