The European Space Agency’s third Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) resupply spacecraft is speeding toward a docking with the International Space Station (ISS), following a smooth countdown and liftoff from the European spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, early March 23.
The March 28 docking is scheduled for 6:32 p.m. EDT, following a series of phasing maneuvers coordinated by the ATV Control Center in Toulouse, France, with ISS controllers in Houston and Moscow. Onboard the station, European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Andre Kuipers and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko will be standing by to remotely guide the ATV into its docking port if there is a difficulty with the automated guidance system.
The supply ship, christened the Edoardo Amaldi, is loaded with 14,450 lb. of propellant, water, research gear and other supplies. It will remain berthed to the aft docking port of the station’s Russian segment until late August. During the docking period, the ATV’s thrusters will take on the reboost role for the six-person orbiting science laboratory and provide propulsion for orbital debris avoidance maneuvers.
The ATV-3 lifted off at 12:34 a.m. EDT, or 1:34 a.m., at the launch site. The station’s U.S., Russian and European crew watched live imagery of the ascent transmitted to them from’s Mission Control.
The Ariane 5’s first stage cut off 10 min. into flight, as scheduled. The spacecraft was released following two burns of the upper stage, the second following a planned 42-min. coast.
Originally set for March 9, the launch was rescheduled so engineers could open the ATV’s dry cargo compartment to resecure internal cargo bags.
The latest of five planned ATVs was named in honor of the 20th century Italian research physicist and one of the founders of the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN. When it departs the station, the ATV will be filled with trash for a destructive re-entry in the Earth’s atmosphere.
ESA’s first two ATVs were successfully launched in March 2008 and February 2011.