The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Albert Einstein spacecraft has successfully connected with the International Space Station (ISS) to supply provisions for the astronauts aboard the orbital outpost, plus fuel for rebooting the station’s orbit.
After blasting off via an Ariane 5 rocket on 5 June from Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, the ESA’s ATV-4 supply ship – a 20-tonne spacecraft dubbed Albert Einstein after the theoretical physicist of the same name – docked successfully with the ISS on Saturday, 15 June.
The Albert Einstein rendez-voused with the 420-tonne space station with a precision of a few centimetres, as both entities circled the Earth at 28,000 km/h, according to the ESA.
"Such a gentle contact between a spacecraft the size of a double-decker bus and a station 20 times larger is an amazing achievement, highlighting the impressive level of control achieved by this European space system," said Thomas Reiter, ESA’s director of human spaceflight and operations.
Albert Einstein will remain connected to the space station for the next four months. As well as supplying goods and propellants, it will serve as an additional rest area for the six astronauts aboard the ISS if they need some time out from the cramped conditions in the space lab.
Astronaut Luca Parmitano prepares to take a picture of Earth from 400km high on the International Space Station. In this photo, Parmitano is in ESA’s Cupola module that is used to monitor approaching spacecraft but also as a window to our planet. Image via ESA/NASA
Before it blasted off, the Albert Einstein was stocked with 2,480kg of dry cargo, such as food and clothing for the astronauts and scientific equipment.
In addition, the spacecraft carried propellants that will be used to regularly reboost the space station’s altitude in orbit. The Albert Einstein will also pump 570kg of drinking water and two tanks of oxygen into the space station’s tanks.
If that weren’t enough, it will also have the capacity to swerve the ISS out of the path of hazardous space debris.
At the end of its mission, scheduled for late October, the Albert Einstein will detach from the space station after it has been loaded with waste material.
The spacecraft will be directed to burn up safely over the South Pacific Ocean during re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, the ESA said.