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ATV-4 update

Albert’s mission is going perfectly

Ever since its successful docking around two months ago, the penultimate ATV – number 4, ‘Albert Einstein’ – has been carrying out the mission for which it has been designed. Albert Einstein delivered seven tonnes of cargo to the International Space Station (ISS), and during the five months of the supply vehicle’s docked mission all this is unloaded in stages and replaced with things that are no longer needed on board the space station.

The ATV is more than a delivery boy. It also carries out ‘reboost’ manoeuvres to counteract the effects of atmospheric drag, which causes the ISS to lose altitude by as much as 100 metres a day. And if items of space debris threaten the ISS, the ATV can execute evasive manoeuvres to nudge the ISS out of danger’s way. Similarly, it performs position control functions when other spacecraft approach the ISS. Last Saturday (31 August 2013), Albert Einstein’s engines powered the second of five planned reboost manoeuvres. (The next reboosts are scheduled for 13 September, 2 October, and 25 October.) ATV-4 is capable of greater thrust for reboosting the ISS than any other spacecraft that has ever visited the space station.

ATV-4 heading for rendez-vous

ATV-4 heading for rendez-vous

On 1 August, 860 kg of fuel brought up to the ISS by Albert Einstein was transferred to the ‘Zarya’ Functional Cargo Block. It took around an hour and a half to completely refuel the ISS. Moreover, thanks to Albert, the ISS crew can now breathe freely again – 100 kg of oxygen supplied by ATV-4 had been transferred to the space station by the end of August.

There was a quiet period in the ATV Control Centre in Toulouse between 15 and 23 August on account of two Russian extra-vehicular activities (EVAs). Because a spacewalk requires maximum safety measures, all on-board tasks are postponed so that the attention of the entire crew is devoted to the EVA. Consequently, the hatches between the ISS and ATV were shut in advance of the EVAs.

All water supplies had also been transferred from ATV-4 to the ISS by 26 August. The tanks which had contained the water were subsequently filled with waste.

On top of all the functions described above, the docked supply vehicle also serves as a fully inhabitable ISS module, offering the crew 45 m³ of additional space in which to live and work.

At the end of its mission, after more than five months, Albert Einstein, by then filled with several tonnes of waste, waste water, dry waste, and equipment that is no longer needed, will undock and depart from the ISS. Its journey will end in late October 2013 when it will burn up during a controlled re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. By then the ATV will have travelled approximately four million kilometres.

The space freighter is integrated and tested at Airbus Defence and Space’s Bremen site

The space freighter is integrated and tested at Airbus Defence and Space’s Bremen site

ATV-5, ‘Georges Lemaître’, undergoing tests

In spring 2014, the fifth and final ATV, named after Belgian astrophysicist Georges Lemaître, will take over the duties of the current ATV-4 mission. ‘Georges Lemaître’ is currently at Airbus Defence and Space’s Bremen site undergoing final preparations. Once these have been completed, ATV-5 will begin its journey to the European spaceport in Kourou (French Guiana). Part of these final preparations is system validation testing (SVT). The first of two SVTs for ATV-5 took place on 3 September in Bremen; the second will be carried out once the spacecraft is in Kourou.

During the test, a connection was established between the ATV Control Centre in Toulouse and the ATV-5, which is located on a test bed at the Airbus Defence and Space site in Bremen. The team tested communication to and from the ATV, checked internal data communication between the individual systems, and verified the functionality of the safety systems.

Work on the ATV-5 is in full swing

Work on the ATV-5 is in full swing

Communication was provided via NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellites (TDRS), which transmit the data to the White Sands ground station in New Mexico, and ESA’s Artemis telecommunications satellite, which transmits the data to the Redu ground station in Belgium. The ground stations then transmit the data directly to the ATV team in Toulouse. To enable communication between Bremen and the ATV Control Centre via the same satellite systems, two satellite dishes were installed on the roof of the integration hall in Bremen – one pointing towards a TDRS satellite and the other towards the Artemis satellite.

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