The European Space Agency (ESA) launched the rocket Ariane-5 from French Guiana on Wednesday 16 February 2011. The spacecraft carries the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) “Johannes Kepler,” named after the famous German astronomer and mathematician author of “Astronomia Nova,” published 400 years ago (ESA, 2009).
This was the 42nd successful launch of the expendable launch system Ariane-5 and its heaviest to date with a weight of 20.1 ton (Thisdell, 2011).
Once into orbit, the ATV will approach and autonomously dock with Russia’s Zvezda module of the International Space Station and deliver its 7ton cargo including: 800 kg of fuel, 840 litres of water, 100 kg of oxygen and other gases, and vital supplies for the crew of the space station.
The ATV’s size is close to that of a double decker bus, it is 9.7m tall with a diameter of 4.4m, its solar arrays span 22m. The frontal payload zone contains racks with supplies, the middle section holds gas and water tanks and the propulsion module is located in the back. It was built in Bremen, Germany with contributions from many European countries (ESA, 2011).
The artist impression above shows the automatic docking of ATV “Johannes Kepler” with the International Space Station planned for 24 February 2011. The laser beams guide the orientation of the coupling as both spaceships synchronize speeds at 27743.8 km/h (ESA, 2011).
Like its predecessor, ATV-1 “Jules Verne” in 2008, the new ATV will collect debris from the Space Station. In a few months it will separate to head towards the Earth in a controlled destructive re-entry over the Pacific Ocean, burning up as it enters our atmosphere.
References¤ “ATV Johannes Kepler operating flawlessly” (2011). European Space Agency (ESA). [Online]. Available here. (Accessed: 19 February 2011).
¤ “Europe’s ATV Johannes Kepler supply ship on its way to Space Station” (2011). European Space Agency (ESA). [Online]. Available here. (Accessed: 19 February 2011).
¤ “Second ATV named after Johannes Kepler” (2009). European Space Agency (ESA). [Online]. Available here. (Accessed: 19 February 2009).
¤ Thisdell, D. (2011). “Kepler launch marks 42nd straight Ariane 5 success.” Flightglobal [Online]. Available here. (Accessed: 19 February 2011).