• Five successful missions provided 32 tonnes of cargo and 40 re-boosts to the ISS • Airbus Defence and Space to use ATV technology in new space projects including the US human spacecraft ‘Orion’
The European space transporter ATV (Automated Transfer Vehicle) ‘Georges Lemaître’ has de-docked from the International Space Station (ISS) after more than 200 days in space – the longest period of any of the ATV spacecraft. Filled with 2.5 tonnes of waste – dry refuse, waste water and equipment that is no longer needed – the final ATV has set off on its final mission. The controlled re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere is scheduled to take place the day after. Airbus Defence and Space, the world’s second largest space company, is the prime contractor for the ATV programme on behalf of the European Space Agency (ESA).
“With ATV-5, the success story of the most complex spacecraft ever developed and constructed in Europe, which began in 2008, comes to a close. But this technology will not burn up with the re-entry of ATV ‘Georges Lemaître’. Instead, it will bring a multitude of new space projects to life,” said François Auque, Head of Space Systems. “This success has only been possible thanks to the unparalleled European and international cooperation over the last two decades. This cooperation and the ATV’s world leading technology will live on long into the future with the Orion programme taking astronauts into Earth’s orbit and beyond – a real testament to everyone who worked on this fantastic programme.”
ATV is the largest and most sophisticated space vehicle ever built in Europe and a space freighter that is renowned for its reliability and precision. For example cargo could be loaded only 20 days before launch, very useful when items were needed at short notice. In terms of precision, the ATV is the only cargo vehicle operating highly independently, able to navigate autonomously and rendezvous with the ISS without human control, to an accuracy equivalent to the width of a 1 Euro coin. Neither ATV ‘George Lemaître’ nor ATV ‘Albert Einstein’, touched the docking cone that is used to guide less precise spacecraft to their target during the docking procedure, which takes place at an altitude of around 400 kilometres – 30 times higher than the cruising altitude of a passenger aircraft – and at a speed of 28,000 km/h. Astronauts didn’t even hear the docking.
The main engines of the second ATV ‘Johannes Kepler’ – each ATV has four main engines and 28 smaller thrusters for braking and attitude control manoeuvres – set the record for the largest space boost in the history of the ISS by raising its orbit by nearly 40 kilometres and 40 re-boosts in total.
Each ATV is as large as a London double-decker bus, and since 2008, the five space transporters have transportedpayloads totalling almost 32 tonnes to the ISS. This includes water, food, air, fuel, clothing, equipment and experiments for scientists and the ISS. Every ATV also carried personal items for individual crew members: from Parmesan cheese to tiramisu and cheese noodles, the astronauts’ special requests were satisfied. The spacecraft, each of which had a take-off weight in excess of 20 tonnes, were also a challenge for the European Ariane 5 launcher. At 20.3 tonnes, ATV ‘Georges Lemaître’ holds the record for the heaviest Ariane payload.
The end of the ATV programme opens a new era, with Airbus Defence and Space developing the service module for the American human spacecraft ‘Orion’ on behalf of ESA. The service module is primarily based on ATV technology and will provide ‘Orion’ with propulsion and energy, and, for future human missions, with oxygen, nitrogen and water.
Additionally, the expertise gained in developing the autonomous rendezvous and docking system could be used to service future space infrastructures or satellites, to ‘catch’ non-steerable objects such as space debris or asteroids. The technology could also be adapted to be used to land safely and independently on other planets.
Airbus Defence and Space is a division of Airbus Group formed by combining the business activities of Cassidian, Astrium and Airbus Military. The new division is Europe’s number one defence and space enterprise, the second largest space business worldwide and among the top ten global defence enterprises. It employs some 38,000 employees generating revenues of approximately €14 billion per year.
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