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[b]Europe's third cargo vehicle docks with the station[/b]
ESA's ATV [i]Edoardo Amaldi[/i] has docked with the International Space Station's Russian Zvezda module.
The docking occurred smoothly when the ATV's docking probe was captured by Zvezda's docking cone at 00:31 CEST (22:31 GMT, 5:31 p.m. CDT) on March 28.
The docking probe was retracted, followed by the hooks between the two craft closing. The data and electrical connections then were established.
The 20-ton vessel, flying autonomously while being continuously monitored from the ground, docked with the 450-ton orbital complex with a precision of 6 centimeters as they circled Earth at more than 28,000 kilometers per hour.
"No one should consider that this smooth and gentle docking between these two giant spacecraft is either an easy or routine task," said Thomas Reiter, ESA's director of human spaceflight and operations.
"The technologies we have demonstrated in operational conditions with the ATVs have a tremendous potential for future human spaceflight and exploration missions."
The docking concluded a step by step approach to the orbital outpost by the large freighter. The vehicle maneuvered autonomously during these critical operations, monitored by a separate on board control system to ensure the safety of the station and its crew.
The ground teams at the ATV Control Center in Toulouse as well as ESA astronaut Andre Kuipers and his crewmates on the station were also watching the approach, in case a hold or an abort had to be ordered.
Like its predecessors, ATV-3 has a multifaceted mission. As a space tug, it is loaded with 3,150 kg. of propellant to reboost the station's orbit to compensate for the natural decay in altitude caused by atmospheric drag or to move it from the path of potentially hazardous space debris. ATV also provides attitude control when other spacecraft are approaching the station.
As a space tanker, it is delivering 860 kg. of propellant, 100 kg. of oxygen and air, and 280 kg. of drinking water, all to be pumped into the station's tanks.
As a space freighter, it carries 2,200 kg. of dry cargo such as scientific equipment, spare parts, food and clothes for the astronauts.
During the five months it will spend docked to the station, it will act as a temporary space module, providing 45 cubic meters of extra crew quarters on the orbital outpost. On previous missions, ATV was welcomed by the astronauts as "the quietest place in the station" and was often the preferred area for working.
At the end of its mission, scheduled for Aug. 27, ATV-3 will separate from the station, packed with waste bags. The following day, it will be directed to burn up safely in the atmosphere during reentry over the South Pacific Ocean.
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