Fully Automated Cargo Vehicle Performs Flawlessly
It may not sound like much... but it's a major step towards the
continued resupply of the International Space Station. NASA reports
the first European Space Agency Automated Transfer Vehicle, the
Jules Verne, docked to the aft port of the International Space
Station's Zvezda Service Module at 1045 EDT Thursday morning.
The unpiloted cargo spacecraft carries more than 7,500 pounds of
equipment, supplies, water, fuel and gases for the station -- over
three times what Russia's Progress resupply ships can carry. It
also carries hopes and aspirations of the European Space Agency,
which expects the ATV and its advanced rendezvous system to play an
important role in future space exploration.
The Jules Verne docked smoothly using its automated, laser
guided rendezvous system. The fully-automated docking procedure was
a new milestone for ESA and NASA, and represented some risks.
Unlike the ultra-reliable Progress supply ships -- essentially
hollowed-out Soyuz capsules -- the ATV is completely automated,
with no manual control allowed in the event of an emergency, apart
from an "Abort" button inside the ISS that signals the ATV to
retreat from the station, and park itself in orbit.
That arrangement caused some concerns among ISS astronauts and
partner nations, who expressed fears an out-of-control ATV could
impact the station, a potentially catastrophic event. Fortunately,
NASA says Thursday's docking was in many respects a repeat of the dry run on Monday, which
brought the ATV to within 36 feet of the docking port.
The Jules Verne launched from Kourou, French Guiana, on an
Ariane 5 rocket on March 9. Solar arrays deployed as planned after
two engine firings more than an hour and a half after launch. That
placed the ATV in a parking orbit about 1,200 miles from the
It was, at almost 22 tons, the
largest payload ever launched by the Ariane 5. The Jules Verne is
named after the acclaimed French science-fiction author. It is the
first of perhaps seven such spacecraft to be built.
The Jules Verne initially was placed in an orbit a safe distance
from the station, where a series of tests were performed. Among the
last of the tests were two approaches to the station.
Those approaches ended in "escape" maneuvers, to verify
the collision avoidance system. It would be used if the ATV
automated docking system should fail.
The spacecraft is scheduled to remain at the station until
August, for unloading and to reboost the orbiting laboratory.
Subsequently it will be filled with station garbage and discards.
Then it will be deorbited for destruction on re-entry over the