Europe’s supply ship blasts off for International Space Station

23 Mar 2012

Ariane 5 and ATV Edoardo Amaldi on the launch pad, 21 March 2012, in Kourou, French Guiana. Photo by European Space Agency

The European Space Agency’s ATV Edoardo Amaldi successfully lifted off from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, today at 4.34am GMT on an Ariane launcher. It’s now heading to the International Space Station (ISS) to deliver supplies and to reboot the space station, while it’s attached to it for about five months.

The launcher, with its 20-tonne payload, started its flight over the Atlantic towards the Azores and Europe, confirmed the ESA.

An initial eight-minute burn of Ariane’s upper stage took ATV-3 into a low orbit inclined at 51.6 degrees to the equator.

After a 42-minute coast, the upper stage reignited to circularise the orbit at an altitude of 260km. About 64 minutes into flight, the supply ship separated from the upper stage.

Twenty-five minutes later, ATV-3 started deploying its four solar wings, which was completed a few minutes later, marking the end of the launch phase.

Edoardo Amaldi is aiming to rendez-vous with the ISS on 28 March at the projected time of 22.34pm GMT where it will dock under its own control with Russia’s Zvezda module.

During the mission, the ferry is being monitored by the ATV Control Centre (ATV-CC), in alliance with space station control centres in Moscow and Houston. ATV-CC is located in Toulouse, France, where the French space agency CNES is based.

The ESA said this morning that the automated transfer vehicle is the most complex spacecraft ever produced in Europe.

Edoardo Amaldi itself is the third in a series of five supply ships developed in Europe to fulfil its obligation towards the exploitation costs of the ISS, said the ESA.

This vessel is the first to have been processed and launched within the target rate of one per year.

“Europe providing an annual service to the station becomes a reality due to the dedication, competence and interaction of our space industry, national agencies and ESA,” said Jean-Jacques Dordain, ESA’s director-general.

Coincidentally, Dordain will also be one of the featured speakers at the Euroscience Open Forum in Dublin this July, as part of Dublin’s 2012 tenure as European City of Science.

Here’s a little bit more about the ATV …

It features high-precision navigation systems, highly redundant flight software and a fully autonomous self-monitoring and collision-avoidance system with its own independent power supplies, control and thrusters, according to the ESA.

Thomas Reiter, ESA’s director of Human Spaceflight and Operations, said this morning that the opportunity is now there to further evolve this technology.

“This will open up a wide range of opportunities for us to contribute to future ventures in space exploration,” he said.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic