ESA’s fourth Automated Transfer Vehicle cargo ferry, Albert Einstein, is ready for launch on an Ariane 5 rocket to the International Space Station on 5 June from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. The liftoff at 21:52 GMT (23:52 CEST) will be covered live from Kourou for broadcasters and on the web, and followed at events in Germany and Switzerland.
ATV Albert Einstein continues ESA’s commitment to yearly deliveries to the Space Station. The mission follows three previous spacecraft, Jules Verne (launched March 2008), Johannes Kepler (February 2011) and Edoardo Amaldi (March 2012). The next one, ATV George Lemaître, is being prepared for launch next year.
ATV Albert Einstein, named after the scientist most famous for developing the theory of relativity, will deliver essential supplies and propellant as well as reboost the Station’s altitude.
At more than 20 tonnes, the highly sophisticated ferry is the heaviest spacecraft ever launched by Europe. The spacecraft is four vehicles in one, bringing equipment and supplies, replenishing the Station’s propellant tanks, keeping the Station aloft and providing a module for the astronauts to live in.
ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano, now working and living on the Station, will monitor the rendezvous and docking on 15 June, and assist with unpacking and storing supplies.
The ship has the largest cargo capability of all the vehicles that visit the orbital outpost: ATV-4 will deliver a total of 6.6 tonnes. Albert Einstein carries more dry cargo than any ATV to date, delivering 2480 kg of scientific equipment, spare parts, food and clothes for the astronauts. It also will also deliver 100 kg of gas, more than 570 litres of drinking water and about 860 kg of propellant – all pumped into the Station’s tanks.
As a space tug, Albert Einstein is loaded with 2580 kg of its own propellant. ATV reboosts help to counteract atmospheric drag that causes the Station to lose up to 100 m of altitude each day. It also controls the attitude of the whole Station when other spacecraft are approaching. If necessary, it can even move the orbital complex out of the way of potentially threatening space debris.
Before leaving the Station, ATV-4 will be filled with waste bags and unwanted hardware by the crew. It will then be deorbited over the southern Pacific Ocean to burn up harmlessly in the atmosphere.
From the time of its separation from Ariane until its descent, the ferry will be commanded from the ATV Control Centre in Toulouse, France, located on the premises of France’s space agency, CNES. From there, operations are coordinated with all other Station ground sites during its mission, including the main Station control centres in Moscow and Houston.
Astrium is the industrial prime contractor, leading a team of more than 30 contractors in 10 European countries.
The last ATV in the series, to be launched next year, will not be the end of the ATV programme. Building on the spacecraft’s track record and advanced design, ESA will supply ATV-derived hardware for NASA’s Orion spacecraft to power humans to the Moon and beyond. Orion is scheduled for a test flight in 2017.