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Forum:ESA - JAXA - China - International
Topic:ESA's Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV-2) "Johannes Kepler"
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Robert PearlmanEuropean Space Agency video release
Making of ATV-2
Robert Pearlman
ATV-2 first launch attempt scrubbed

The first attempt at launching the European Space Agency's (ESA) second Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV-2) "Johannes Kepler" to the International Space Station was scrubbed at 4:10 p.m. CST (2210 GMT) Tuesday, just under three minutes from the scheduled liftoff.

Initial reports from the Ariane 5 launch team at the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana, attributed the scrub to "erroneous data" about the rocket's fuel tank levels.

"From what I was told, there was an erroneous piece of data coming from the filling of the launcher," said Jean-Yves Le Gall, chairman and CEO of Arianespace. "Our teams are already working on that to see what is happening and to try another attempt tomorrow."

The next launch attempt has been scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 16 at 3:50:55 p.m. CST (2150 GMT).

Arianespace release
Ariane Flight 200 - ATV-2: Postponed by 24 hours

Following a measurement anomaly in the liquid oxygen propellant tank of the cryogenic main stage for Flight 200’s Ariane 5 launcher, the final countdown was stopped.

The launch vehicle and its payload of the Automated Transfer Vehicle "Johannes Kepler" remain in a safe mode, awaiting a restart of final countdown operations.

The new launch date is set for Wednesday, February 16, 2011, at 21hr. 50min. 55 sec. Universal Time, or 18hr. 50min. 55sec. local time at the Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, or 22h 50min 55sec. Paris time.

Robert Pearlman
Ariane 5 sets ATV-2 Johannes Kepler into motion

The second of the European Space Agency's unmanned cargo craft for the International Space Station, the Automated Transfer Vehicle-2 Johannes Kepler launched on Wednesday, Feb. 16 at 3:50:55 p.m. CST (2150 GMT) from the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana.

Arianespace release

Liftoff of Ariane 5 with ATV Johannes Kepler

Arianespace's initial mission in 2011 is now underway following the liftoff of an Ariane 5 ES version, which is carrying the first operational Automated Transfer Vehicle - ATV Johannes Kepler - for servicing of the International Space Station.

The Ariane 5's flight is to last just over one hour, and will include two burns of the launcher's EPS storable propellant upper stage - separated by a 45-minute ballistic coast phase. Once the cargo resupply spacecraft is released into a 260-kilometer orbit, the Ariane 5's EPS upper stage will be reignited a third time to de-orbit this upper component of the launcher, sending it towards a splashdown in a deserted area of the South Pacific.

Total payload lift performance for tonight's mission is 20,050 kg., which includes 19,700 kg. for the ATV, plus associated integration hardware - making it the heaviest payload ever for Ariane 5.

Tonight's mission from the Spaceport in French Guiana also marks the milestone 200th flight of Europe's launcher family since the first liftoff of an Ariane 1 version in December 1979. It follows the qualification flight of ATV Jules Verne, the initial cargo resupply spacecraft for Europe that was launched by an Ariane 5 in March 2008.

Robert PearlmanEuropean Space Agency release
Europe's ATV Johannes Kepler supply ship on its way to Space Station

ESA's second Automated Transfer Vehicle, Johannes Kepler, has been launched into its targeted low orbit by an Ariane 5. The unmanned supply ship is planned to deliver critical supplies and reboost the International Space Station during its almost four-month mission.

The Ariane 5 lifted off from Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, at 21:50 GMT (18:50 local) on Wednesday 16 February.

The launcher and its 20.06-tonne payload flew over the Atlantic towards the Azores and Europe. An initial 8-minute burn of the upper stage injected it, with Johannes Kepler, into a low orbit inclined at 51.6 degrees to the equator.

After a 42-minute coast, the upper stage reignited for 30 seconds to circularise the orbit at an altitude of 260 km. About 64 minutes into flight, the unmanned supply ship separated safely from the spent upper stage.

The Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) deployed its four solar wings soon after and will proceed with early orbit operations over the coming hours to begin its climb to the International Space Station (ISS).

"This launch takes place in a crowded and changing manifest for the ISS access, with HTV, Progress, ATV and the Shuttle coming and going. In October last year we had fixed the ATV launch schedule with our international partners," said Jean-Jacques Dordain, ESA's Director General, "and we could keep that schedule thanks to the expertise and dedication of the European industry and Arianespace, of ESA and CNES teams and of our international partners. ATV-2 is the first of a production of four and this new step is the result of technical expertise and political support from Member States to ESA and to international cooperation. We are now looking for the docking to ISS to declare success."

"ATV Johannes Kepler is inaugurating our regular service line to the ISS," added Simonetta Di Pippo, ESA's Director for Human Spaceflight.

For the first time, ESA used a special access device to load last-minute cargo items. "This late access confirms ATV's role as a critical resupply vehicle for the Space Station," she said.

"Right now, integration for the next vehicle in line, Edoardo Amaldi, will be finished in Europe in August 2011, and production is under way for ATV-4 and -5." Mrs Di Pippo confirmed that "Edoardo Amaldi is planned for launch in about 12 months. The other two will follow by 2014."

Flying in the same orbital plane as the Station but well below its 350 km-high orbit, ATV is being constantly monitored by the dedicated ESA/CNES ATV Control Centre (ATV-CC) in Toulouse, France, in coordination with the ISS control centres in Moscow and Houston.

During the coming week, ATV will adjust its orbit to rendezvous with the ISS for docking on Thursday, 24 February.

Europe's smart supply ship

Unlike its 2008 predecessor, ATV Jules Verne, ATV Johannes Kepler will not perform practice demonstration manoeuvres. Instead, it will dock directly and autonomously with Russia's Zvezda module to deliver cargo, propellant and oxygen to the orbital outpost.

The ATVs are contributing to the support and maintenance of the ISS together with Russia's Progress and Japan's H-II Transfer Vehicle, the second of which is now docked to the European-built Node-2.

These three independent servicing systems provide a secure logistics lifeline, while NASA's Space Shuttle is going to be phased out later this year.

This launch also marks the 200th flight of an Ariane vehicle since the debut of 24 December 1979. The total includes 116 flights of Ariane 4 from 1988 to 2003 and 56 flights of Ariane 5 from 1996.

Now in its fourth decade of service, Europe's family of launchers has lofted some 330 payloads to Earth orbit and beyond. Among these, 31 were for ESA, including deep-space probes, astronomical observatories, meteorology, remote sensing and communication satellites, as well as Space Station resupply ships.

Robert PearlmanEuropean Space Agency release
ATV Johannes Kepler operating flawlessly

Following a spectacular launch on 16 February, Europe's space freighter is now in its planned orbit. Mission controllers are preparing to match its trajectory with that of the International Space Station, where it will dock seven days from now.

After a one-day launch delay, ESA's next Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), Johannes Kepler, lifted-off yesterday on an Ariane 5 launcher from Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, at 21:50 GMT. A few minutes later, the vessel attained its initial operational orbit at 260 km altitude.

Credit: ESA/NASA

Above: Expedition 26 flight engineer Paolo Nespoli's photo of the ATV-2 launch as viewed from the International Space Station's cupola.

Mission controllers immediately began checking out the spacecraft and ensuring that programmed sequences - including deployment of ATV's four large solar wings - had correctly taken place.

In-flight communication via relay satellites

ATV has established communications with its control centre in Toulouse, France, sending data and information via NASA's Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System, a constellation of satellites that provides full-time communications with the International Space Station.

Flight dynamics experts on the joint ESA-CNES (French space agency) team in the control centre also carried out the first orbit determination, precisely fixing ATV's position and trajectory in space.

This was done initially using the on-board startrackers and later via GPS satellite signals.

This information is being used to plan and conduct the first of a series of 'phasing manoeuvres'. This complex set of thruster burns will start raising ATV's altitude to that of the Station, currently about 350 km. By 24 February, ATV will be just 30 km behind the Station.

"We had an excellent orbit injection thanks to Ariane, and the spacecraft itself is performing flawlessly. With the one-day launch delay, docking with the ISS is now set for one day later than initially planned, now on 24 February," said ESA's Alberto Novelli, Head of the ATV Operations Division.

Arrival at ISS set for 24 February

In 2008, after the launch of the first ATV, Jules Verne, the vessel spent almost three weeks performing a series of test manoeuvres to prove its automated docking system worked as expected.

"This time, we have a proven spacecraft and an experienced team, so we'll get up to Station in just about a week," said Alberto.

Operating ATV requires an extended 'team of teams' spread around several establishments across Europe.

In addition to ESA and CNES personnel at the Toulouse centre, ESA specialists at the Agency's ESTEC technical centre, in the Netherlands, and at ESOC, the European Space Operations Centre, Germany, are supporting the mission.

ESA's Columbus Control Centre, near Munich, jointly staffed by ESA and DLR, the German Aerospace Center, is also involved in ATV operations, as are numerous experts from the industrial partners that build ATV.

"ATV is a truly European spacecraft. Flying it requires experts from ESA, partner agencies and industry across half a dozen countries," said ESA's Bob Chesson, Head of the Human Spaceflight Operations Department.

"Getting it built, into orbit and operating it in flight to docking requires a lot of hard work and dedication from hundreds of people."

music_spaceAn even more astonishing picture from the same series is this close-up. How does one account for the variation in plume illumination and the bright blue spot at the top?

Robert Pearlman
ATV-2 Johannes Kepler approaching station

The European Space Agency (ESA) reports that the forecast time for today's docking between the International Space Station (ISS) and the Automated Transfer Vehicle-2 (ATV-2) Johannes Kepler has been moved back slightly to 9:49 a.m. CST (15:49 GMT).

Johannes Kepler has already reached the S-1 Waypoint, about 15 km (9.3 miles) from the International Space Station (ISS).

The new, most critical event times are below.

EventTime (GMT)Distance from ISS
S2 arrival13:093.5km
S2 depart13:41
S3 arrive14:21249m
S3 depart15:00 estimated
S4 arrive15:23 estimated19m
S4 depart15:38
S41 arrive15:4011m
S41 depart15:45
Robert PearlmanESA ATV blog
Photo: ATV docking control panel in ISS

This photo is just in from ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli onboard the ISS. It shows the control panel that he and Russian cosmonaut Aleksandr Kaleri will use in just a few hours to oversee the docking of ATV Johannes Kepler.

Credit: ESA/NASA

During the final approach to docking, two astronauts on board the ISS will monitor docking closely, ready to issue commands to HOLD, RETREAT, ESCAPE or ABORT if anything goes wrong. For this, they will use a control box -- the panel enables 16 different commands -- located in the Russian Zvezda ISS module. With this control panel and a laptop, the two -- ESA's Paolo Nespoli, from Italy, and Russian cosmonaut Alexander Kaleri -- can follow and intervene if necessary in all final steps of docking.

The four buttons at the top are the most important. The red ABORT button on the left is used in case of any major failure. It uses a computer that is completely separate from ATV's main computer, and controls its own thrusters, electrical system and command network.

Other maneuvers are possible: to hold ATV in its current position, order it to retreat -- basically, go back to its previous position -- or, if necessary, to conduct an ESCAPE.

The other twelve functions are settings for the camera and optimize video viewing settings.

Robert PearlmanEuropean Space Agency (ESA) release
Europe's ATV supply ship docks safely with space station

Eight days after launch, ESA's latest Automated Transfer Vehicle, Johannes Kepler, completed a flawless rendezvous and docking with the International Space Station at 17:08 CET (16:08 GMT) to deliver essential supplies.

The approach and docking were achieved autonomously by its own computers, closely monitored by ESA and French space agency (CNES) teams at the ATV Control Centre in Toulouse, France, as well as the astronauts on the Station.

ATV's own second set of sensors and computers provided an independent check.

Although both ATV and the ISS orbit at 28 000 km/h, the relative speed during final approach remained below 7 cm/s and the accuracy within a few centimetres.

Johannes Kepler closed in on the ISS from behind in order to dock with Russia's Zvezda module.

At close range, the 20-tonne unmanned spaceship computed its position through sensors pointed at laser reflectors on the Station to determine its distance and orientation relative to its target.

ATV's docking probe was captured by the docking cone inside Zvezda's aft end at 16:59 CET (15:59 GMT). The closure of hooks completed the docking sequence some nine minutes later.

"With this smooth docking, Johannes Kepler proves to be a great example of the wave of innovation 'made in Europe'. We are more ready than ever to head into an era of autonomy in space exploration," said Simonetta di Pippo, ESA's Director for Human Spaceflight.

"Thanks to its flexibility, we can think of a wide variety of new space vehicles. ATV could evolve into a future reentry spacecraft to support future orbital infrastructures and exploration missions, carrying people and supplies to lunar orbit," added Mrs Pippo.

"This is very important for us and for all our partners in the ISS programme since, after the withdrawal of the Space Shuttle, ATV will be the largest servicing vehicle left to support the Station and it is our responsibility to deliver a proper service."

"What is happening up there is a lot more than the combination of space agencies, the engagement of ESA Member States and the dedication and 'savoir faire' of European Industry," said Jean-Jacques Dordain, ESA's Director General.

"We are contributing to the largest international cooperation ever conducted in the field of science and technology.

"We have a lot to learn here, not only through scientific research conducted onboard, but also with the ongoing space operations, in order to meet the challenges of tomorrow.

"The succession of vehicles recently launched to the ISS gives an idea of the level of joint operations the Station generates now that it is fully operational."

ATV Johannes Kepler was launched by an Ariane 5 from Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, on 16 February. It will remain docked to the Station until June, serving as an additional module, providing a shirtsleeve environment for the astronauts and reboosts to move the complex to a higher altitude.

In the coming hours, the Station crew will open the hatch and enter ATV's pressurised cargo module to unload some 1760 kg of dry cargo, including food, clothes and equipment. They will also pump 860 kg of propellant and 100 kg of oxygen into Zvezda's tanks. ATV can carry about three times as much payload as Russia's Progress cargo ships. However, most of this load on Johannes Kepler is propellant for its own thrusters for periodic Station reboosts to compensate for atmospheric drag.

If required, ATV will also provide Station attitude control or even move the outpost out of the way of potentially dangerous space debris.

The docking of Johannes Kepler will be followed by NASA's docking of Space Shuttle Discovery, carrying the European-built Leonardo Permanent Multipurpose Module. With Europe's ATV and Leonardo, the US Shuttle, Japan's HTV-2 and two Russian Soyuz and one Progress docked simultaneously to the Station, the orbital outpost will set a new record for a manned space vehicle: it will provide more than 1000 cubic metres of pressurised volume and total more than 500 tonnes.

Robert PearlmanEuropean Space Agency (ESA) release (June 17, 2011)
ATV preparing for fiery destruction

ATV Johannes Kepler has been an important part of the International Space Station since February. Next week, it will complete its mission by undocking and burning up harmlessly in the atmosphere high over an uninhabited area of the Pacific Ocean.

Serving the International Space Station is a valuable job but it will come to a spectacular end: ESA's second Automated Transfer Vehicle, packed with Station rubbish, will deliberately plummet to its destruction on Tuesday in Earth's atmosphere.

Just like the tonnes of natural space debris that collide with our planet every day, the 10-tonne ferry will burn up on reentry.

Only a few hardy pieces might survive and splash into the uninhabited South Pacific. The area's air and sea traffic has been warned and a no-fly zone will prevent any accidents.

The racks inside ATV have been filled with some 1200 kg of waste bags and unwanted hardware by the crew.

Mission so far

ATV Johannes Kepler delivered about seven tonnes of much-needed supplies to the Space Station, including 1170 kg of dry cargo, 100 kg of oxygen, 851 kg of propellants to replenish the Station tanks and 4535 kg of fuel for the ferry itself to boost the outpost's altitude and make other adjustments.

ATV-2 manoeuvred the complex on 2 April to avoid a collision with space debris.

During the hectic mission of Johannes Kepler, two Space Shuttles and Japan's HTV cargo carrier visited the Station, along with two Progress and Soyuz spacecraft. These required several changes of Station attitude, mostly controlled by ATV's thrusters.

Big boosts and preparations for dive

ATV's last important task was to give the Station's orbit a big boost. One important sequence was performed 12 June, another on 15 June and the last one this afternoon, 17 June.

The combined effect of these manoeuvres was to raise the Station's orbit to around 380 km.

The crew will close the hatches between the Station and ATV-2 on Sunday afternoon at 15:30 GMT (17:30 CEST). Undocking follows on Monday, at 14:51 GMT (16:51 CEST), with ATV's thrusters gently increasing the distance from the outpost.

On 21 June, Johannes Kepler will fire its engines twice to descend from orbit.

The first burn, at 17:07 GMT (19:07 CEST) will drop it towards Earth. The second burn, at 20:05 GMT (22:05 CEST), will direct it precisely towards its Pacific target.

Hitting the upper atmosphere, ATV will tumble, disintegrate and burn, and any remains will strike the ocean at around 20:50 GMT (22:50 CEST).

Useful up to last moments

Some aspects of a controlled destructive entry are still not well known, so ATV's last moments will be recorded by a prototype 'black box'.

The Reentry Breakup Recorder will gather measurements on the location, temperature, pressure and attitude of the vehicle's breakup before ejecting.

Once it reaches an altitude of about 18 km, it will transmit the information via the Iridium satphone system.

With this last phone call home, Johannes Kepler will be productive right to the very end of a fruitful mission.

Robert PearlmanEuropean Space Agency (ESA) release
Johannes Kepler has left the station

Europe's Johannes Kepler ATV cargo ferry undocked from the International Space Station today at 14:46:30 GMT (16:46:30 CEST). The craft is now leaving the orbital outpost far behind and will end its mission on Tuesday evening as a shooting star over the Pacific Ocean.

After spending almost four months as an important part of the International Space Station, ESA's second Automated Transfer Vehicle is ending its days as a rubbish truck - another critical role because the 1200 kg of waste bags and discarded equipment cannot just be thrown out of the Station.

The crew closed the hatches between the two vehicles on Sunday afternoon at 15:30 GMT (17:30 CEST).

Undocking came today, with ATV's thrusters gently increasing the distance from the outpost, towards a path leading to its deliberate destruction. Before the undocking, all electical and data connections between the two spacecraft were disconnected at 14:39 GMT (16:39 CEST).

ATV Johannes Kepler delivered more than seven tonnes of dry cargo, propellants and air in February.

ATV's last major job was to boost the complex to a higher orbit. The vehicle also assisted Station attitude control several times during its mission.

Fireball over the Pacific

Tomorrow, Johannes Kepler will fire its engines twice to descend from orbit.

The first burn, at 17:07 GMT (19:07 CEST), will drop it towards Earth. The second burn, at 20:52 GMT (22:52 CEST), will direct it precisely towards its South Pacific target.

This area is used for controlled reentries of spacecraft because it is uninhabited and outside shipping lanes and airplane routes. Extensive analysis by ESA specialists will ensure that the trajectory stays within safe limits.

The same area was also used for the descents of ATV-1 in September 2008 and Russia's Mir space station in 2001.

Air and sea traffic has been warned and a no-fly zone will prevent any accidents.

The 14-tonne ATV is now empty of hazardous materials and it will almost completely burn up - like a meteor, hitting the atmosphere at high speed.

Each year, about 40 000 tonnes of meteoroids and interplanetary dust fall to Earth with no ill effect.

The freighter will hit the outer layers of the atmosphere at an altitude of about 100 km. It will start tumbling at about 20:24 GMT (22:24 CEST), disintegrate, burn and any remains will strike the ocean at around 20:59 GMT (22:59 CEST).

Only a few hardy pieces might survive the fiery reentry and splash harmlessly into the ocean.

Last call home

The last moments of Johannes Kepler will be carefully captured by its Reentry Breakup Recorder, collecting information on its position, attitude, temperature, pressure and other aspects of its breakup.

The 9 kg 'black box' will start recording automatically for ATV's last five minutes.

It will then be jettisoned, protected by its own heatshield. At an altitude of 18 km it will transmit the stored data via the Iridium satphone system for analysis. The recorder will not be recovered.

Some aspects of controlled destructive entries are still not well known so all in-situ measurements are welcome.

Similar recorders may be used in future on satellites and spacecraft like black boxes on aircraft.

Robert PearlmanEuropean Space Agency (ESA) release (June 21, 2011)
The end for ATV Johannes Kepler

Europe's unmanned ATV space freighter plunged on command into Earth's atmosphere today to end its mission as a spectacular shooting star over the southern Pacific Ocean. Contact with the spacecraft was lost at 20:41:39 GMT (22:41:39 CEST) at an altitude of 80 km.

After a flawless undocking from the International Space Station on Monday at 14:46 GMT (16:46 CEST), the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) flew solo while its mission control centre in Toulouse, France, prepared the craft for its fiery end.

There was one unplanned manoeuvre: dodging a piece of space debris about two hours after leaving the Station.

After a warning from NASA that an object would zip past to within 50 m, ATV-2 fired its thrusters briefly to move out of danger.

The tonne of propellant remaining in its tanks was plenty for the reentry manoeuvres and any contingencies. The ad hoc avoidance again demonstrated ATV's adaptability to changing situations.

Last moments of Johannes Kepler

Today, at 17:07 GMT (19:07 CEST), ATV fired its engines to enter an elliptical orbit leading to the second burn at 20:04 GMT (22:04 CEST), which precisely targeted its Pacific goal.

The first burn lasted for 10 min 9 sec and the second for 14 min and 9 sec.

Just before hitting the atmosphere, Johannes Kepler was commanded to begin tumbling to ensure it would disintegrate and burn up safely.

Surviving pieces such as the heavy docking adapter and main engines - designed to withstand extreme heat - struck the ocean at around 21h GMT (23h CEST). There were no hazardous materials aboard ATV.

The destructive reentry happened exactly as planned over an uninhabited area of the south Pacific, about 2500 km east of New Zealand, 6000 km west of Chile and 2500 km south of French Polynesia.

"The mission of ATV-2 has been very smooth and we have encountered during these four months only very minor issues that were quickly taken care of by our teams," said Nico Dettmann, Head of ESA's ATV Programme.

"ATV has shown again its capabilities in servicing the Station and we are looking forward to the next, Edoardo Amaldi, which will be shipped to Kourou in August for launch in early 2012."

"We broke many records with ATV-2," continued Alberto Novelli, Head of ESA's ATV Mission Operations.

"Not only was this the heaviest payload ever launched by ESA and the Ariane 5 rocket, but the ATV's engines also achieved the biggest boost for human spaceflight since the Apollo missions to the Moon: we raised the Space Station's orbit by more than 40 kilometres."

Reentry being analysed

ATV's last moments were recorded by a prototype 'black box' provided by the US Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies. A similar recorder was carried by Japan's HTV-2 ferry during its reentry on 28 March.

The small device collected information on acceleration, roll, pitch and yaw rates, temperatures and GPS coordinates.

It was then left to decend on its own, protected by its own heatshield, and transmit the stored data via the Iridium satphone system.

The information will help to predict what happens to space hardware as it reenters and comes apart under aerodynamic heating and loads.

This will help in designing future spacecraft to break up into less hazardous fragments on reentry.

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