Europe has completed its last cargo delivery to the International Space Station, leaving future drops to US firms and Russia. The European Space Agency will focus on building modules for NASA's planned Orion craft.
The last of five unmanned European freight vehicles docked with the International Space Station (ISS) on Tuesday, marking what NASA called a "bittersweet moment."
The European Space Agency (ESA) began its cargo flights to the station in 2008. The regular task recently passed two NASA-contracted US companies, Space X and Orbital Science, along with Russia's Progress freighter.
Tuesday's docking involved Europe's Automated Transfer Vehicle 5 (ATV-5) built at an Airbus' works in Bremen, Germany. It was launched two weeks ago from the ESA's site at Kourou, in French Guiana.
The ATV-5, about the size of a double-decker bus, weighs roughly 20 tons and is the biggest-ever payload of over 6.6 tons
This includes fuel, water, oxygen, food, clothes and scientific experiments for the six ISS crew members, comprising personnel from Russia, the US, Europe, Canada and Japan.
Named after Big Bang theorist
The fifth European freighter is named after Georges Lemaitre, the Belgian astrophysicist who proposed the "Big Bang" theory of how the universe came into being.
Once unloaded, the 10-meter (33-foot) pressurized capsule will provide additional living and working space for the astronauts.
They will use the ATV-5's onboard engines to boost the altitude of the space station, which loses height through atmospheric drag each day.
ESA contributes to Orion project
The ESA is expected to turn its attention to building power and propulsion modules for NASA's planned Orion spacecraft, developed by Lockheed Martin Corp.
Orion will be designed to carry four astronauts to destinations beyond the space station, including asteroids, the moon and Mars.
At the end of its six-month stay, the freighter will be filled with garbage and human waste before being undocked and then burning up during a controlled re-entry over the South Pacific.