Airbus Defence and Space

Manned Space Missions Press releases

Airbus Defence and Space built ATV-3 Edoardo Amaldi docks perfectly with the ISS

• Airbus Defence and Space, as prime contractor for the sophisticated Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) proves for the third time its capability to perform automatic rendezvous in space
• 6.6 metric ton payload of ISS supplies ranging from toothbrushes to scientific experiments
• More room for astronauts: ATV3 will be an additional part of the space station until the end of summer 2012

29 March 2012 – After a six-day flight, Edoardo Amaldi, the third unmanned supply vehicle built for the European Space Agency (ESA), has docked perfectly with the International Space Station (ISS) at 02:31 GMT on the 29th of March, achieving a docking accuracy of less than 10 centimeters at a speed of 28.000km/h. Airbus Defence and Space, Europe’s leading space company, is the prime contractor for the development and construction of the cargo spacecraft.

“Achieving a rendezvous in space for the third time is a huge success for all our teams as it uses one of the most cutting-edge technologies that Airbus Defence and Space has developed as system integrator for ATV”, said Alain Charmeau, CEO of Airbus Defence and Space. “The ATV’s innovative technologies make ATV the unique European space vehicle being at the same time an orbital vehicle capable of rendezvous and docking, and an integral module of the station – in short the most intelligent space robot currently available. Of course, we are currently studying new evolutions for the automated transfer vehicle on behalf of ESA, the European Space Agency, in order to maintain and develop Europe’s amazing space technologies.”

Another two ATVs will have delivered supplies to the ISS by 2014. Following the retirement of the US Space Shuttle, ATV is now the largest supply vehicle for the ISS.

Now that it has docked, the ATV can begin its mission to supply the ISS and correct the space station’s orbit. The ATV will also function as an integral, even inhabited part of the ISS.

For this third mission, the supply vehicle brings 6.6 metric tons of freight for the space station, including over 4 metric tons of fuel, water and gases. In order to enable the ISS to perform debris avoidance and reboost maneuvers (to raise the space station’s orbit), Edoardo Amaldi will burn up to 3,150kg of fuel in up to 10 separate occasions during its mission. The ATV will also transfer 860 kg of propellant to the ISS Russian Segment propulsion system. Oxygen (70kg), air (30kg) and water (285kg) also form part of the ATV’s “fluid” cargo, while everyday necessities, experiments, spare parts and care packages from the astronauts’ families make up a further 2.2 metric tons of the payload. The astronauts will gradually unload this cargo over the six-month period that the ATV remains docked to the ISS.

ATV-3 Edoardo Amaldi’s mission will last until the end of the summer. At the same time as it is gradually unloaded, the ATV will also be loaded with items no longer needed on board the ISS. The supply vehicle’s controlled re-entry will take place over the southern Pacific Ocean. By then Edoardo Amaldi will have travelled some 4 million kilometers in total.

Docking with the ISS

Edoardo Amaldi docked with the Russian station module “Zvezda”. The safety of the crew and the space station is the number one priority during the automated docking sequence with the ISS. The autonomous, intelligent ATV safety system – developed by Airbus Defence and Space – ensures that in case of system anomaly, the space vehicle automatically isolates the anomaly and maintains the full functionality of the vehicle to continue its mission. In the unlikely case of two anomalies, ATV is able to perform a maneuver that removes ATV from the station’s vicinity, and “parks” the ATV at an appropriate distance from the ISS. ATV has this capability whatever the situation to ensure the safety of the space station. After system verification, a new approach can then be initiated. During the rendezvous, in addition to the ATV’s onboard systems, operations are constantly monitored by the ATV Control Center (operated from CNES space center in Toulouse) and the ISS Ground Control Centre. The ISS crew also monitors the final approach of the vehicle thanks to a video camera and can, as a last resort, abort the rendezvous operations by directly commanding the ATV to move away from ISS.

The ATV’s automated rendezvous and docking phase began at some 30 kilometers from the ISS and 5 kilometers below when ATV systems established precisely its relative position and velocity with respect to the ISS. The first automated rendezvous maneuvers, computed and executed by ATV on its own, brought the vehicle to a ‘hold’ position 3500 meters behind the ISS. After authorization from the ground, ATV went automatically to the next hold point, at a distance of 250 meters. At this point, the ATV system switched to relative guidance, navigation and control mode (GNC) using its optical sensors and locks on the ISS. After authorisation by the ATV control centre, the ATV continued its approach up to the hold position at 20 meters from the ISS; it then began also to control its attitude in relation to that of the ISS, in the approach that took it to 12 meters. Following a last “go” from the ATV control center, jointly agreed with the ISS crew and ISS ground control centers, Edoardo Amaldi covered the last few meters to the ISS docking port at a relative maximum speed of not more than 10 centimeters per second.

The axis of ATV’s extended docking probe, the head of which has a diameter of about
15 centimeters was brought into contact with the docking port of the Russian “Zvezda” module with an accuracy of less than 10 centimeters. The docking port is a passive cone which has a diameter of 90 centimeters. As soon as first contact is made, the ATV docking head locked with ISS docking port. ATV then executed an automated sequence that set-up all electrical, mechanical and fluid connections with the ISS.

After equalization of pressures between ATV and the ISS, the ISS hatch will be opened by the ISS crew, who then open the ATV’s pressurized module hatch (diameter about 80 centimeters); from then on the ATV pressurized module will form an extension of the ISS inhabited environment, and the European space vehicle will be an integral part of the ISS.

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About Airbus Defence and Space

Airbus Defence and Space is the number one company in Europe for space technologies and the third in the world. In 2011, Airbus Defence and Space had a turnover close to €5 billion and 18,000 employees worldwide, mainly in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain and the Netherlands.

Airbus Defence and Space is the sole European company that covers the whole range of civil and defence space systems and services.

Its three business units are: Airbus Defence and Space for launchers and orbital infrastructure; Airbus Defence and Space for spacecraft and ground segment;  Airbus Defence and Space for comprehensive fixed and mobile end-to-end solutions covering secure and commercial satcoms and networks, high security and broadcast satellite communications equipment and systems, and bespoke geo-information services, worldwide.

Airbus Defence and Space is a wholly owned subsidiary of AIRBUS Group, a global leader in aerospace, defence and related services. In 2011, the Group – comprising Airbus, Airbus Defence and Space, Cassidian and Eurocopter – generated revenues of € 49.1 billion and employed a workforce of over 133,000.


Press contacts:

Jeremy Close (Airbus Defence and Space UK)                                                       Tel.: +44 (0)1 438 77 3872

Gregory Gavroy (Airbus Defence and Space FR)                                                    Tel.: +33 (0) 1 77 75 80 32

Ralph Heinrich (Airbus Defence and Space GER)                                                   Tel.: +49 (0) 89 607 33971

Francisco Lechón (Airbus Defence and Space SP)                                                 Tel.: +34 91 586 37 41