European "space truck" docks at space station

4th April 2008, Comments 0 comments

A live telecast, watched with bated breath by the craft's assemblers in Bremen, Germany, showed how computers guided the arriving craft smoothly throughout the slow maneuver, succeeding on its first attempt.

Bremen, Germany -- In a first docking by a European spacecraft in orbit, an expendable "space truck" named the "Jules Verne" nosed up to International Space Station (ISS) on Thursday and attached itself automatically.

A live telecast, watched with bated breath by the craft's assemblers in Bremen, Germany, showed how computers guided the arriving craft smoothly throughout the slow maneuver, succeeding on its first attempt.

Operators in the European Space Agency (ESA) control room in Toulouse, France announced "Contact!" as an extendable probe touched, and minutes later the space track hooked itself securely to the space station.

The Jules Verne, which brought nearly 6 tons of food, fuel and other supplies to the three astronauts on the ISS, is the first automated transfer vehicle (ATV) in a series of five to be built by the Europeans.

The feat was hailed as a key step towards building robots that could visit Mars and return, or perhaps to an even grander goal: a European manned space program. Only Russia, the United States and China have spacecraft that take humans aloft and bring them back.

The ATV, the size of a bus, will later be allowed to burn up in the Earth's atmosphere after it has finished its job.

The docking was displayed live on big screens at EADS-Astrium, the space company in the German city of Bremen where the ATV had been assembled from components made in several European nations.

The ATV Control Center in Toulouse supervised the maneuver in cooperation with the Russian control center in Moscow and the NASA control center in Houston, Texas.

The Jules Verne, named after the 19th-century French writer of science fiction novels, had to attach itself to the Russian-built Zvezda module of the ISS, with the space truck's human masters ready to take over only if there were any risk of a crash.

The 20-ton ship packed with cargo left earth last month, the largest vehicle ever lifted into space aboard the Ariane 5 European rocket. It then mounted a series of tests to make sure that nothing went wrong with the automatic docking.

Jules Verne is also set to give the ISS a 30-kilometre boost into a higher orbit. The station's altitude has been reducing by 200 meters daily as it drags against the edge of the atmosphere.

After the astronauts have unloading all the storage racks in a few months, the ATV will depart with the station's accumulated garbage and "park" in orbit 2,000 kilometers from the station, before being crashed in August into Earth's atmosphere.

The five ATVs to re-supply the ISS will gain in importance after 2010 when the US space shuttles will be taken out of service.

The Jules Verne can carry three times as much payload as its Russian delivery-van equivalent, the Progress spacecraft. The ATV series cost 1.3 billion euros (2 billion dollars) to develop.

DPA with Expatica

0 Comments To This Article