The European Space Agency’s ATV-4 unpiloted International Space Station re-supply ship re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere early Saturday, burning up harmlessly over the southern Pacific Ocean.
The re-entry at 8:04 a.m., EDT, concluded a five month mission for the next-to-last of the large unpiloted cargo ships that serve as ESA’s contribution to ISS operations through 2017.
The final spacecraft in the series, the ATV-5, has been christened the Georges Lemaitre, for the 20th century Belgian physicist and priest associated with the big bang theory. It is scheduled for launching from the European spaceport in French Guiana in late June 2014.
The 22 ton ATV-4, named for physicist Albert Einstein, was launched June 5 atop an Ariane 5 rocket. The supply ship docked with the ISS Russian segment on June 15 with more than seven tons of fuel, food, water, compressed air, research gear and spare parts.
“The mission went perfectly, which for me and the ATV team or any space mission is a great thing,” said Alberto Novelli, the ATV-4 mission manager, in a statement that followed the re-entry.
Six times, the ATV-4 was commanded to fire its thrusters to raise the orbit of the space station. The freighter was filled with trash before its departure early Monday. The freighter was positioned just over 60 miles below the ISS for Saturday's plunge into the atmosphere, allowing the station astronauts to observe the event so that it could be used to model re-entry events.
"The smooth running of this fourth mission shows the maturity of the ATV program and puts ESA’s successful track record on the map for future projects,” said Novelli.