July 27, 2017

European ATV Space freighter plummets to earth

An artists impression of the Kepler ATV re-entering the atmosphere. A cool but expensive way of disposing of garbage.

Europe’s ATV-Johannes Kepler space freighter has destroyed itself over the South Pacific upon re-entering the atmoshpere.

The ATV-Johannes Kepler ship took 1.3 tonnes of rubbish from the International Space Station (ISS) into a controlled dive into the atmosphere just before 2100 GMT on Tuesday.

Most of the vehicle and its waste cargo would have been vaporised in the descent, with only a few pieces of hardware likely to have survived on the ocean surface.

The burn-up brings to an end Kepler’s successful four-month mission to the ISS.

Its purpose had been to deliver more than seven tonnes of fuel, food, air and equipment to the orbiting space station.

Instead of being just a delivery vehicle, Kepler also used its big thrusters to push the International Space Station higher into the sky.

The space lab is now flying at an altitude of more than 380km above the earth – its furthest ever distance.

It means the station will now experience less drag from the wisps of air present high above the planet that work to pull the platform downwards over time.

The Keplers automatic rendezvous and docking systems had no problem finding the ISS; and then, having attached itself to the back of platform, the truck operated perfectly.

Kepler was the second such freighter flown by ESA; the first, known as Jules Verne, completed its mission to the station in 2008.

The Automated Transfer Vehicles (ATV is their generic name) are the means by which Europe pays its share of the common operating costs of the ISS project. It is a barter arrangement in which capability and hardware is provided instead of cash.

Three further freighters are planned, with the first of these – Eduardo Amaldi – due to launch at the end of February next year. The final two will go up in 2013 and 2014.

Beyond them, Esa is looking to take the capabilities and expertise gained on the trucks into a new type of spacecraft – something it has dubbed for the moment simply as the “ATV Derivative”.

Its purpose and design are currently being discussed with the US space agency, NASA.

One possible outcome is some sort of European contribution to NASA’s Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV).

The MPCV is envisaged by Nasa as a manned ship that could take astronauts beyond the space station, to the Moon, asteroids and Mars.