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[i]In contrast to the Progress or the Russian Soyuz, the European ATV is the first vehicle capable of carrying out automatic dockings in full autonomy.
While Russian vessels have an automatic docking system, it requires the presence of humans in order to resume command in the event of an non nominal approach. Astronauts must be aboard at least one of two vessels, or, if this is not the case, it is necessary that the docking will take place over the control centre (usually two conditions are satisfied). This system of resumed manual control of the steering was very often used at the time of missions to Salyut and Mir, so much so that some officials on the ground began to suspect astronauts take command at the first opportunity to earn the "manual docking premium." [ie. you get paid if you manual dock!] This return to manual is not free from risk either, as evidenced by the collision with a Progress with Mir in 1997, which led to depressurization - and therefore off-putting service - the Spektr module.
The system developed for the ATV, for its part, was designed to directly meet the reliability and security imposed by NASA, using an ultraprecise navigation system, a triple redundant computers and by a fully independent chain of commands. This system is the only one to allow the ship to dock with the station without [human] intervention; it is the only one who can dock at a station in distress.
It can thus be used for orbital rendez-vous around other planets , excluding any human presence, for example missions sample return or automatic assembly of large structures.[/i]
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