Saturday, January 07, 2012

ESA Cargo Mission Progresses Toward March Liftoff


While the eyes of many space observers are focused on the upcoming historic launch of a SpaceX Dragon on the first commercial cargo delivery mission to the International Space Station, slated for Feb. 7, at least one other cargo mission is set to rendezvous with the station over the next few months.

Work is underway at the Arianespace launch center in French Guiana for the planned March 9 launch of the latest European Space Agency’s Automated Transfer Vehicle, the ATV-3 Edoardo Amaldi, named for a noted Italian physicist. At least one additional ATV mission is planned, the ATV-4 Albert Einstein.

According to the Arianespace website:

Arianespace is readying the first Ariane 5 for launch in 2012 from French Guiana following delivery of this heavy-lift workhorse yesterday at the Spaceport by its industrial prime contractor, Astrium.

The Ariane 5 ES vehicle is now in the Spaceport’s Final Assembly Building following its transfer from the Launcher Integration Building – where it underwent integration of its core cryogenic stage, solid propellant boosters, equipment bay and EPS upper stage.

This version of Arianespace’s workhorse heavy-lift launcher is now ready to receive its payload: the no. 3 Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) cargo resupply vessel developed by Europe for servicing of the International Space Station.

The latest ATV is named after Italian physicist Edoardo Amaldi and will carry an estimated 6,960 kg. of dry cargo, propellant, water and gas when it lifts off next March 9 from French Guiana.

Arianespace is entrusted with the orbiting of ATVs under contract to the European Space Agency. The company lofted ATV no. 1 (named after Jules Verne) in March 2008, which was followed by the launch of ATV Johannes Kepler this past February.

The Ariane 5 heavy lift rocket arrived at Kourou, French Guiana on December 20, 2011. The ATV’s cargo was loaded in late November, and will carry a payload of 2,900 kg. of propellant for its own propulsion system, 860 kg. of Russian propellant for the International Space Station’s engines, 285 kg. of Russian-supplied water, 102 kg. of gas (consisting of air, oxygen and/or nitrogen), and 2,450 kg. of dry cargo (composed of such items as food, clothing and spare parts), according to mission logs on the Arianespace website. All cargo was loaded in clean room conditions as the ATV becomes an integral part of the I.S.S. while docked at the station.

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