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Albert Einstein mission to go out in style

Jenny Winder, News Writer
Oct 28, 2013, 7:00 UTC

Sen—ESA’s unmanned cargo ship named Albert Einstein (ATV-4) will come to an end when it undocks on Monday and enters Earth's atmosphere five days later.

Albert Einstein is the fourth of ESA's Automated Transfer Vehicles that delivers supplies to the International Space Station (ISS), reboosts its orbit and frees up space on the orbital outpost when it undocks with waste.

The mission has served the ISS faithfully since it was launched from Europe’s spaceport in French Guiana back in June.

ATV Albert Einstein, Europe’s supply and support ferry, docking with the International Space Station. Image credit: ESA/NASA

This year, the ATV team has planned a special departure. After undocking at 09:00 GMT on 28 October, Albert Einstein will be instructed by ATV Control Centre in Toulouse, France to perform delicate manoeuvres over the course of five days to position itself directly below the Station.

The reentry procedure will start around noon GMT 2 November when ATV-4 is 120 km below the Station, so astronauts can observe the craft from above as it disintegrates over the Pacific Ocean. This will provide valuable information to calibrate future spacecraft reentries.

ATV Control Centre in Toulouse, France, during the launch of ATV Albert Einstein on an Ariane 5 launcher, 10 June 2013. Image credit: ESA

"This mission has gone without a hitch and is an excellent performance by the operations team at the control centre and our industrial partners that built the machine," says ATV-4's mission manager, Alberto Novelli.

"To close the mission with such a delicate but spectacular operation is a fitting end to all the hard work of the people involved," adds Jean-Michel Bois, heading the operations team at the control centre.

The record-breaking ATV-4 is the heaviest payload ever launched by an Ariane rocket. The vessel carried the most cargo by weight (7 tonnes of supplies, propellants and experiments) as well as the most individual items (over 1400) ever in the ATV series and on Monday it will leave the Station packed with the largest amount of waste ever.

ATV-5 named after Belgian physicist Georges Lemaître, is likely to fly in mid 2014.