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Flying colours for the ATV Johannes Kepler mission

On 20 June, the ATV-2 Johannes Kepler accomplished a textbook undocking from the ISS and then disintegrated as planned 24 hours later in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Like the ATV Jules Verne before it, the ATV-2 has completed its mission with flying colours. Launched by Ariane 5 on 16 February, the supply vehicle docked with the International Space Station (ISS) eight days later.

At this point it became a fully-fledged inhabited ISS module, in line with its qualification status. To complete its mission as an integral part of operational life at the Station and fitting in with Shuttle, Soyuz Progress and HTV2 traffic, the ATV-2 remained docked to the Station for almost four months, instead of the three initially planned. In addition to delivering equipment, gas and fuel, the ATV was able to accomplish all the attitude-adjustment manoeuvres required – including some unusual ones due to the high volume of traffic docking with the Station (see photo below with the space shuttle Endeavour) – as well as the ISS reboosts, the last of which were conducted in early June raising the Station by the greatest distance yet.

“Being able to modify the way in which the ATV is used while in orbit, as well as the duration of its docking to the ISS to make best use of the vehicle’s abilities to serve the Station, is a necessary part of the normal life of a fully operational supply vehicle.  When the operational plan was changed, the Control Centre and Airbus Defence and Space teams made adjustments accordingly and had no trouble reconfiguring and executing the operations,” explains Gilles Debas, Airbus Defence and Space’s ATV Operations Manager. As with the ATV Jules Verne, which had already gone through the same thing in 2008, everything went smoothly. This included the controlled de-orbiting operations above the Pacific and the destruction of the cargo of waste in the atmosphere.  The European Space Agency (ESA) was therefore able to use this second ATV unit to the full servicing of the ISS.

“I would like to congratulate all Airbus Defence and Space employees who participated at any level in the success of this second mission, which is crucial not only for our company but also for the European space industry,” states Wolfgang Paetsch, Director of the ATV Programme at Airbus Defence and Space. “I have no doubt that Johannes Kepler will prove to be another experience rich in lessons learned that will serve us well in preparing the three remaining ATV units currently under construction at various Airbus Defence and Space and partner sites. At present, everything looks to be spot on for the ATV-3 Edoardo Amaldi, which should leave Bremen in August and head to Kourou, for a launch in March 2012.”

Alain Charmeau, CEO Airbus Defence and Space enthuses: “I want to thank ESA for its renewed trust in Airbus Defence and Space as the main industrial partner for both the supply of the European components for the Station, and their operation. The exemplary conclusion of the ATV Johannes Kepler mission has given us yet another opportunity to demonstrate that Airbus Defence and Space teams are the most reliable ones for successfully completing, on time and on cost, even the most complex man-rated missions.”

"ATV is a fantastic space vehicle, and the Johannes Kepler mission was a great success," said Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Space Operations in Washington. "ATV's last task, pushing the station up a few miles, moved the station away from the increased drag of the solar cycle, which allows us to reduce propellant consumption. My congratulations go to the European teams, especially to our colleagues of European industry."