In maiden voyage, European space freighter docks with ISS
Europe's robot freighter successfully docked on its maiden voyage with the International Space Station.
TOULOUSE, France, April 4, 2008 (AFP) - Europe's robot freighter successfully docked on its maiden voyage Thursday with the International Space Station, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced.
The Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) hooked up with mankind's orbiting
outpost at 1445 GMT, prompting cheers and applause to erupt at mission control
in this southwestern French city.
Named after French science fiction pioneer Jules Verne and roughly the size
of a London double-decker bus, the ATV is Europe's most ambitious venture in
orbital transport and one of its costliest gambles in space.
"This is an historic moment," Yannick d'Escatha, the head of France's
National Centre for Space Studies (CNES), declared.
Closing the gap at six to seven centimetres (three to four inches) per
second, the module coupled automatically with the Russian-made unit Zvezda,
one of the ISS's earliest components.
Within seven minutes, mechanical links anchored the ATV to the ISS as a
prelude to connecting the two vessels' computers by cable.
The mission is "a spectacular demonstration of Europe's capabilities in
international space exploration," said ESA's Director-General Jean-Jacques
The ATV -- described by ESA as combining the functions of a "tug boat and a
river barge" -- is carrying 7.5 tonnes of drinking water, food and other
essentials for the astronauts on the space station.
"ATV's autopilot worked better than the top pilots in space today, and
that's what bugs me," former French astronaut Jean-Francois Clervoy told AFP,
tongue in cheek.
Locked in tandem, ISS and the resupply ship will circle Earth at 28,000
kilometres (17,400 miles) per hour at an altitude of about 350 kilometres (220
The Jules Verne will stay in place for approximately six months and then,
loaded with refuse from the ISS, will separate and burn up in a safe,
controlled descent toward Earth over the Pacific Ocean, ESA says.
Mastering automatic-docking technology is considered a key to assembling
spaceships in orbit for long-term missions, such as to Mars.
The Jules Verne weighed nearly 20 tonnes at its launch from Kourou, French
Guiana, on March 9, but used up some of its fuel in docking rehearsals while
Designed and built for 1.3 billion euros (2.01 billion dollars), the Jules
Verne will be followed by four more cargo ships, whose assembly and launch
will each cost over 300 million euros (471 million dollars).
The automated docking took place three four minutes later than scheduled,
but otherwise went off without a hitch.
The module's pressurised Integrated Cargo Carrier has 50 cubic metres
(1,765 cu. feet) of storage space -- nearly the capacity of a large shipping
Besides drinking water, the 10-metre (32.5-feet) -long vessel houses a tank
containing 860 kilos (1,892 pounds) of refuelling propellant for the ISS's
propulsion system, as well as oxygen and nitrogen.
Over the next six months, the ATV will boost the multi-module ISS into a
higher orbit to compensate for its natural altitude loss of up to several
hundred metres (hundreds of feet) per day.
The ISS and its orbiting occupants depend on regular deliveries of
experiments, spare parts and life-sustaining supplies, to date furnished by US
space shuttles and Russia's Progress resupply vessels.
Since it first went into orbit, the ISS has accommodated 156 astronauts
from 15 countries, as well as five "tourists."