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Forum:ESA - JAXA - China - International
Topic:ESA's Automated Transfer Vehicle-5 (ATV-5) "Georges Lemaître"
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Robert Pearlman
Final European cargo freighter docks to station

The fifth and final European Space Agency (ESA) cargo spacecraft docked to the International Space Station on Tuesday (Aug. 12).

Automated Transfer Vehicle-5 (ATV-5), which was named "George Lemaitre" to honor the 20th century Belgian astronomer and physicist credited with proposing the theory of the expansion of the universe, docked to the aft port of the station's Zvezda Service Module at 8:30 a.m. CDT (1330 GMT).

The unmanned spacecraft is loaded with more than seven tons of fuel and supplies for the station crew.

The ATV's arrival at the station marked the end of a two-week journey that began July 29 with its launch on an Ariane 5 rocket from Kourou, French Guiana. En route to its docking, the Georges Lemaitre passed less than four miles under the space station on Friday (Aug. 8) before looping back around for the final phase of its rendezvous. This pass tested a suite of lasers and sensors that may be incorporated into the design of future European spacecraft.

The Georges Lemaitre is expected to remain at the station until late January 2015.

Robert Pearlman
Final European ATV undocks from station

ESA's fifth and final Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) undocked from the International Space Station's aft port of the Zvezda service module at 7:42 a.m. CST (1342 GMT) on Saturday (Feb. 14).

ATV-5, the "Georges Lemaître" will move to a safe distance from the space station for its deorbit and destructive entry in the Earth's atmosphere on Sunday.

This is the last in a series of European resupply spacecraft that began servicing the space station in the spring of 2008. In all, the ATVs delivered approximately 34 tons of supplies to the complex while docked to the station of 776 days.

ESA is applying its technology and knowledge from the cargo ship to develop the service module for NASA's Orion spacecraft.

Robert PearlmancollectSPACE
Fiery finale: ESA's last ATV space station freighter makes fleet's final re-entry

In the end, Europe's fifth and final space station freighter went out in more of a fiery blaze than with the "big bang" of its namesake.

The European Space Agency's (ESA) Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) 5, christened the "Georges Lemaître" after the Belgian priest and astronomer whose work led to the Big Bang theory of the universe's origin, was intentionally destroyed as it plunged back into the Earth's atmosphere on Sunday (Feb. 15).

The unmanned spacecraft, the last of its type, came to its end at 12:11 p.m. CST (1811 GMT).

Robert PearlmanEuropean Space Agency (ESA) release
ATV's internal camera delivered data, but not images

A prototype 'blackbox for spacecraft' running inside ESA's cargo ferry as it burned up in the atmosphere managed to return data to the ground but, sadly, the images it took were lost in transit.

ESA's fifth and final Automated Transfer Vehicle broke up as planned over an uninhabited region of the South Pacific at about 18:04 GMT on Sunday 15 February, having separated from the International Space Station the day before.

Aboard it was the Break-Up Camera, designed to record ATV's death throes in the infrared and transfer the results to the SatCom heatshield-protected sphere.

Surviving the break-up, SatCom then broadcasts its stored data to Iridium telecom satellites as it plummets back to Earth.

How did it turn out in practice? The good news is that the team did indeed receive a message from the SatCom on Sunday evening at 18:08 GMT, four minutes after ATV broke up.

Neil Murray, overseeing the project for ESA, explains: "The message we received contained information on the number of pictures taken – nearly 6000 – as well as accelerometer and magnetometer readings, details of the sphere rotation and a temperature reading.

"Receipt of this message demonstrates that all systems worked correctly: the trigger logic guiding its operation was correctly implemented, the infrared camera worked and acquired images and then buffered thousands of them to SatCom.

"In turn, SatCom survived break-up, and then – after the closing of the four inhibits against early transmission – switched on its modem and contacted the telecom satellite constellation to send at least one message.

"We also know from the message the internal temperature of the sphere remained moderate and there were no signs of any thermal issues.

"To retrieve all the data, more messages would have been required, but – frustratingly – these have nor arrived. Our team is currently investigating why further data packets didn't make it through. This investigation may result in improvements, such as a backup data relay for future missions."

By returning data, the prototype contributed to the development and qualification of the design, this blackbox system being part of the Agency's continuing research into reentry dynamics.

The camera and capsule were built by Ruag in Switzerland, with thermal protection contributed by the DLR German Aerospace Center, software from Switzerland's ETH Zurich and the antenna and electronics from Switzerland's Viasat, with Denmark's GomSpace delivering batteries.

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