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. Europe Launches Jules Verne Robot Space Freighter

Weighing 11 tonnes unloaded, 10.3 metres (33.5 feet) long and 4.5 metres (16.25 feet) wide, the ATV "is the biggest and most complex space vehicle that Europe has ever built," said senior ESA official Jean-Michel Bois at mission control in Toulouse, France.

The ISS, whose assembly began in 1998, now has a mass of more than 240 tonnes and can be easily seen at night with the naked eye, perceptible as a small, "moving star".
by Staff Writers
Kourou (AFP) Mar 09, 2008
The European Space Agency on Sunday carried out the maiden launch of a massive robot freighter designed to rendezvous automatically with the orbital space station.

The Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), a nearly 20-tonne payload the size of a London double-decker bus, blasted into the skies aboard a beefed-up Ariane 5 launcher, an AFP reporter saw.

After being placed in orbit, the cylinder-shaped craft will deploy its solar panels and gently find its way to the International Space Station (ISS) and berth with it.

The launch had initially been scheduled for Saturday but was postponed for further checks.

The ATV will deliver seven and a half tonnes of food, water, pressurised air, fuel and personal items to the ISS crew.

After docking, the ATV will use its engines to propel the station, which is being gently tugged earthwards by terrestrial gravity and lingering atmospheric molecules, to a safer height in low orbit.

After six months or so, the craft will detach from the ISS, taking with it rubbish accumulated during the station's mission. The trash and freighter will then safely disintegrate over the Pacific, mission scientists say.

Weighing 11 tonnes unloaded, measuring 10.3 metres (33.5 feet) long and 4.5 metres (16.25 feet) wide and laden with hi-tech optical navigation, docking sensors and communications equipment, the ATV has cost ESA 1.3 billion euros (1.96 billion dollars).

The payload, handled by an Ariane 5 ES, is the biggest undertaken by ESA yet.

It will be placed in orbit at an altitude of 260 kilometres (160 miles), and then take about two weeks to edge up to the ISS, in order to test its systems and wait patiently for the departure of a US space shuttle, the Endeavour, before docking with the station.

Deployment of the ATV has been put off for some four years because of delays in assembling the ISS after the loss of the shuttle Columbia in February 2003.

The first ATV is named after Jules Verne, the French author who pioneered science fiction. Four more cargo ships are in the works, with their assembly and launch each costing just over 300 million euros.

Europe's other major contribution to the ISS has been a 1.4-billion-euro science module which was attached to the burgeoning orbital outpost last month.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy hailed the successful launch as a "major European contribution" to the ISS's functioning.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and European affairs minister Jean-Pierre Jouyet said it was a "result of European cooperation in strategic top technology".

"France and Germany, which had a special role in developing this space craft, are today reaping the benefits of their cooperation," they said in a joint statement.

earlier related report
European Space Freighter Ready For Lift-Off
The first European space freighter was ready for lift-off on its maiden voyage to carry supplies to the International Space Station, officials said Saturday.

The Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), a nearly 20-tonne payload the size of a double-decker bus, was to be launched at 0359 GMT Sunday aboard a beefed-up Ariane 5 launcher.

"There are only the final checks to be made," the Arianespace official responsible for the ATV, Jean-Michel Desobeau, told a press conference.

The launch, originally scheduled for early Saturday, had to be delayed a day for new checks on the system to separate the freighter from its carrier rocket after launch.

If all goes well, the unmanned cylindrical craft will deliver seven and a half tonnes of food, water, pressurised air, fuel and personal items to the ISS crew.

After docking, the ATV will also use its engines to propel the station, which is being gently tugged earthwards by terrestrial gravity, to a safer height in low orbit.

After six months or so, the craft will detach from the ISS, taking with it rubbish accumulated during the station's mission. The trash and freighter will then safely disintegrate over the Pacific, mission scientists say.

Weighing 11 tonnes unloaded, measuring 10.3 metres (33.5 feet) long and 4.5 metres (16.25 feet) wide and laden with hi-tech optical navigation, docking sensors and communications equipment, the ATV has cost ESA 1.3 billion euros (1.96 billion dollars).

The payload, handled by an Ariane 5 ES, is the biggest ever undertaken by ESA.

The first ATV is named after Jules Verne, the French author who pioneered science fiction. Four more cargo ships are in the works, with their assembly and launch each costing just over 300 million euros (450 million dollars).

Hitherto the space station has relied on deliveries from the US space shuttle and the veteran Russian Progress freighters.

earlier related report
Europe Ready To Launch World's Latest Space Freighter
The most advanced robot freighter in space history is due for its maiden launch this weekend, crowning Europe's involvement in the troubled International Space Station (ISS).

If all goes well, a beefed-up Ariane 5 rocket will blast off from French Guiana at 0339 GMT on Sunday, taking aloft a cylindrical craft the size of a London double-decker bus that will play a unique dual role of cargo ship and tug.

Some two weeks later, the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) will rendezvous automatically with the ISS, hauling up 7.5 tonnes of food, water, pressurised air, fuel, clothing and treats to mankind's outpost in space.

After docking, it will also use its engines to propel the ISS, which is being gently plucked earthwards by terrestrial gravity and lingering atmospheric molecules, to a safer height in low orbit.

After six months or so, the craft will detach from the ISS, taking with it rubbish accumulated during the station's mission. The trash and freighter will then safely disintegrate over the Pacific, mission scientists say.

Weighing 11 tonnes unloaded, 10.3 metres (33.5 feet) long and 4.5 metres (16.25 feet) wide, the ATV "is the biggest and most complex space vehicle that Europe has ever built," said senior ESA official Jean-Michel Bois at mission control in Toulouse, France.

Operations will be monitored round the clock by a 130-member Toulouse team, liaising with US and Russian space centres in Houston and Moscow.

The ATV cannot take humans, only freight, but adds an important transport element to the ISS programme. Until now, the ISS has been supplied by the Soviet-era Progress unmanned supply ship, and by manned Soyuz and US space shuttle flights.

To get this far has taken the European Space Agency (ESA) 11 years of development, including a four-year deployment delay, and a bill of 1.3 billion euros (1.96 billion dollars), more than twice the sum initially budgeted.

The first ATV has been named after Jules Verne, the French author who pioneered science fiction. Four more are in the works, with their assembly and launch each costing just over 300 million euros (450 million dollars).

Europe's other major contribution to the ISS has been a 1.4-billion-euro (2.11-billion-dollar) science module which has only just been delivered to the station. The ISS's construction programme was badly affected by the loss of the shuttle Columbia in February 2003.

The huge cost overruns have spurred a fierce debate among European scientists.

Many argue the price of getting involved in the US-led ISS has been literally astronomical and siphoned funds away from less prestigious schemes that would have yielded more science.

The ATV's defenders say the investment has yielded new optical navigation, smart communications and software system to enable the craft to dock with millimetric precision without a human hand.

"Europe is acquiring docking and assembly ability in space," said Bois, noting that future spaceships heading for the Moon and Mars will comprise units launched one at a time from Earth and then assembled in orbit.

earlier related report
Arianespace Status Report
Arianespace's record-setting Ariane 5 mission with the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) resupply spacecraft has been cleared for flight following the Launch Readiness Review held today (March 6) at the Spaceport in French Guiana.

The review - which is conducted before every Ariane flight - validated the Ariane 5 ES vehicle's status, the Spaceport's launch infrastructure and the network of ground-based tracking stations. It brought together all of the major mission partners, including Arianespace, members of the Ariane 5 industrial team, and launch staff at the Spaceport.

This followed a similar validation of the ATV payload's launch readiness on Wednesday, March 5, with key European managers and program members, plus Russian and American operations personnel for the International Space Station - where the large unmanned resupply spacecraft will dock in low Earth orbit during early April.

All is now ready for Ariane 5's rollout from the Spaceport's Final Assembly Building to ELA-3 launch zone tomorrow. It will clear the way for a final countdown to the March 9 early morning liftoff. The ATV launch is set for a specific time: 00:59 a.m. in French Guiana, which differs from the typical 30-60-minute launch windows for Ariane 5 missions to geostationary transfer orbit with commercial telecommunications satellites.

On the ATV's milestone maiden flight, the European-built resupply spacecraft will deliver propellant, oxygen, equipment, systems, food and water for the International Space Station and its crew.

This no. 1 ATV is named "Jules Verne" in honor of France's visionary 19th century science fiction writer, and it has a liftoff mass of more than 19,000 kg. - by far the heaviest single payload ever to be carried by Ariane

5. The flight also marks Ariane 5's entry into the limited "club" of launch vehicles that support human spaceflight operations for the International Space Station.

Arianespace's order book currently includes nine ATV missions, which will be launched to the orbital facility by Ariane 5s over a period of several years.

The March 9 ATV flight is the first of seven Ariane 5 missions planned by Arianespace in 2008. Its next launch is targeted for April, carrying a dual payload of telecommunications satellites that includes the Star One C2 spacecraft for Brazilian operator Star One. The Ariane 5 for this flight is in the Spaceport's Launcher Assembly Building, where it has completed its initial build-up.

Subsequent Ariane 5 launches in 2008 will orbit the Herschel and Planck scientific payloads, as well as TerreStar 1 - the largest geostationary commercial communications satellite ever built.

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Ariane 5 Star One C2 Satellite Launch Campaign Underway
Paris, France (SPX) Mar 05, 2008
Thales Alenia Space's Star One C2 telecommunications platform is undergoing processing in the Spaceport's clean room facilities, where it completed the fit-check process this week with an adapter unit that serves as the satellite/launch vehicle interface. To be used by Brazil's Star One telecommunications operator, Star One C2 carries a payload of 28 C-band transponders, 16 Ku-band transponders, and 1 X-band transponder.

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