The European Space Agency designed its Automated Transfer Vehicle to handle the logistics of the International Space Station. Once it starts flying, it will deliver food, water and fuel to the astronauts.
"Jules Verne" delivers post and takes out the trash
Named after French author Jules Verne, the originator of modern science fiction, Europe's first "Automated Transfer Vehicle," is scheduled to launch aboard an Ariane 5 rocket in September 2005. The introduction of the spacecraft, which will ferry supplies including food, parts, fuel, water and even mail to the International Space Station will help take the burden off the Space Shuttle fleet, which currently transports the bulk of payloads and astronauts.
"We’re particularly excited about the ATV, because it will help close the gaps if the space shuttle is not flying," said Sigmar Wittig, chairman of the executive board of the German Aerospace Center, which is funding about 41 percent of Europe's contribution to the ISS. "We recently had to reduce the number of astronauts on the ISS to two because the shuttle was grounded and there was no way to provide three with enough supplies. Separating the transport of humans and goods is the way to go in the future. "
The Automated Transfer Vehicle will use a laser tracking system to dock with the International Space Station.
After the launch of the Jules Verne, one ATV will be launched by ESA about every year, carrying 7.5 tons of cargo from the Kourou launch site in French Guyana. The cylindrical vessel weighs 20 tons and measures 10.3 meters long (33.79 feet) and 4.5 meters in diameter. After a journey of up to five days, it will dock with the space station's Russian service module using a precision laser tracking system that looks like a scene straight out of "Star Wars."
The ATV holds tanks that can carry 840 kilograms of water, 860 kilograms of refuelling propellant for the ISS' propulsion system and 100 kilograms of oxygen. The spacecraft also has thrusters that will be used to boost the space station's altitude every 10 to 45 days. Residual atmosphere causes the station to sink from its normal altitude of 400 kilometers, and up until now the US space shuttles have been used to propel the ISS back to its correct position.
Galactic parcel post and trash can in one
Once docked with the Russian service module on the ISS, astronauts can access the ATV during a six-month period. After all the supplies have been unloaded, the ATV is then filled with up to 6.5 tons of station waste, which will be destroyed as the cargo vessel burns up and disintegrates in Earth's atmosphere.
The pressurized Automated Transfer Vehicle will be docked with the space station for up to six months at a time and will be completely accessible to astronauts on board the ISS.
Though Jules Verne's voyage to space will only be one-way, his successors will become a routine part of life on the space station. "The ATV can play a major role from the moment onwards when the shuttle is phased out," said Jörg Feustel-Büechl, referring to US plans to junk the shuttle program in the near future. "The ATV is by far the biggest resupply vehicle. Presently we are relying very much on the Russian 'Progress' vehicle, which can transport two to three tons to the station."
Like the Columbus Research Module, EADS Space Transportation is also the prime contractor for ATV, but most of the development work has been undertaken at the company's French headquarters in Les Mureaux near Paris.