The second unmanned European cargo spacecraft for the International Space Station (ISS), is currently undergoing its first flightworthiness and functionality tests as a fully integrated unit at the Airbus Defence and Space facility in Bremen.
Preparations for the final system tests are running at full capacity. The delivery date for Johannes Kepler has been slated for November 2010. On behalf of the European Space Agency (ESA), Airbus Defence and Space is responsible for both the development and production of the ATVs.
The ATV is the supply spacecraft for the ISS. On a typical mission, the ATV will carry water, fuel, food and scientific equipment to the ISS. Once its mission is over, the ATV is loaded with waste, undocked from the ISS and allowed to burn up upon re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere. While still docked with the space station, the ATV is also responsible for regularly boosting the ISS into a higher orbit and performing manoeuvres to avoid collisions with space debris. This is necessary because the ISS orbits at an altitude of around 400 kilometres in a region where it is slowed down by the residual atmosphere, causing it to lose altitude.