Important for post-Shuttle Interim, Important for ESA, Important for Roscosmos - In short: "Important"
ESA - RussianSpaceWeb.com - Europe’s brand-new transport ship designed to re-supply the International Space Station, is preparing for its maiden voyage. The launch of the Ariane-5 rocket carrying the first Automated Transfer Vehicle, ATV, is scheduled during early hours of March 9, from the European spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.
The 19-ton ATV-1 vehicle was dubbed Jules Verne, after a prolific 19th century French novelist, who made many brilliant predictions about the future of space flight. The spacecraft is expected to be the first in a series of such ships heading to the station roughly every 17 months. They will play a critical role in supporting human permanent outpost in the Earth orbit, especially after NASA retires the Space Shuttle in 2010.
In addition to its space station role, the ATV project brought European aerospace industry ever closer to developing a vehicle for human space flight. Even though, it is not capable of carrying people, the ATV gives Europe’s future astronauts the biggest hope for entering space onboard their own spacecraft. It sports all necessary systems for automated rendezvous and docking with the space station, while its internal cargo volume provides short-sleeve environment for the station crew.
European Space Agency published several concepts for the follow-on versions of the ATV ship, including one equipped with a capsule capable of returning cargo to Earth. Sources within the European aerospace industry also said that ATV’s engineering experience could serve as a bridge toward a new-generation manned spacecraft, possibly developed in cooperation with Russia.
A Russian firm RKK Energia cooperated closely with the European space industry in the ATV program, supplying a number of critical systems, including rendezvous and docking and refueling hardware.
The flight plan for ATV-1 calls for the docking with the International Space Station, ISS, at the beginning of April 2008, after an array of tests and maneuvers in orbit. It will then remain as a part of the orbital complex until August, while the station’s crewmembers unload its cargo and use its engines to raise the outpost’s orbit.
Upon completing its mission, the ATV-1 will undock from the station with up to 6.4 tons of trash. The vehicle will then be directed into the Earth atmosphere to burn up over the remote area of the Pacific Ocean.