After departing the International Space Station (ISS) early Oct. 28, the European Space Agency’s ATV-4 has embarked on five days of solo flight to set up an atmospheric re-entry that will be documented by station astronauts.
The European space freighter, christened Albert Einstein, undocked from the station’s Russian segment Zvezda module at 4:55 a.m. EDT, ending a 4 1/2-month stay.
The capsule, filled with 4,761 lb. of station trash before it undocked, will be maneuvered to a position 75 mi. (120 km) below the 260-mi.-high ISS by the ATV Control Center in Toulouse so the crew of the orbiting science lab can directly observe and document the planned Nov. 2 atmospheric re-entry and disintegration over the Pacific Ocean. The ATV-4 observations will be used to calibrate future spacecraft re-entries, according to an ESA statement.
The Albert Einstein, launched June 5 from the European spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, docked at Zvezda on June 15, delivering more than 7 tons of fuel, food, water, research equipment and other supplies, as well as providing a propulsion source to periodically raise the station’s altitude.
With the Oct. 28 departure, ESA is obligated to provide a fifth and final ATV resupply mission, currently scheduled for 2015. Initiated in 2008, the five cargo missions are fulfilling ESA’s share of annual ISS operating costs.
The ATV-4 departure also opens an ISS docking port for a round of Soyuz crew transport activities that will temporarily increase the number of crewmembers aboard the station from six to nine in early November to accommodate the arrival and departure of a Russian-furnished symbolic Olympic torch.
On Nov. 1, ISS commander Fyodor Yurchikhin will be joined byand ESA astronauts Karen Nyberg and Luca Parmitano as they transfer their Soyuz TMA-09M capsule from the Rassvet module docking port to the just vacated Zvezda parking spot.
The relocation, expected to take less than 30 min., will free Rassvet for the Nov. 6-7 launch and docking of the Soyuz TMA-11M with astronauts Richard Mastracchio from the U.S. and Koichi Wakata of Japan, and cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin of Russia. The unlit Olympic torch that accompanies the newcomers will briefly join ISS cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy outside the station during a Nov. 9 spacewalk focused primarily on the external outfitting of the station for the future arrival of Russia’s Multi-Purpose Laboratory Module.
Late Nov. 10, the Soyuz TMA-09M is scheduled to depart with Yurchikhin, Nyberg and Parmitano as well as the symbolic torch for a landing under parachute in Kazakhstan, ending a 5 1/2-month expedition for the trio.
The torch will make its way to the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, set to open on Feb. 7.