Jules Verne cargo ship departs the space station
BY STEPHEN CLARK
Posted: September 5, 2008
Europe's first state-of-the-art Automated Transfer Vehicle departed the international space station Friday after a five-month stay that delivered more than 10,000 pounds of cargo to the complex.
Undocking was at 2129 GMT (5:29 p.m. EDT), ending a 155-day mission attached to the aft docking port of the station's Zvezda service module, European Space Agency officials said.
The supply ship launched March 9 and spent more than three weeks being readied to approach the station. Docking occurred April 3.
The vessel is named Jules Verne after the visionary 19th century science fiction writer.
Physical separation occurred about five minutes after hooks inside the docking mechanism began opening. Jules Verne fired its engines one minute after undocking to change the ship's velocity by about 9 mph and send the craft on a path below and in front of the station.
The station's three-person crew - Russian commander Sergei Volkov, flight engineer Oleg Kononenko and American science officer Greg Chamitoff - closed hatches between Zvezda and the cargo ship Thursday, officials said.
The crew loaded more than 1,800 pounds of discarded dry cargo and 582 pounds of liquid waste into Jules Verne during its mission. The trash will burn up with Jules Verne during its re-entry into Earth's atmosphere later this month.
The ATV boosted the station's orbit four times to counteract the effects of atmospheric drag as the complex orbits at an altitude of about 220 miles.
Controllers also activated Jules Verne's propulsion system Aug. 27 to steer the station clear of space debris from a Russian satellite. The debris avoidance maneuver was the station's first since 2003.
Jules Verne consumed more than 5,200 pounds of maneuvering propellant while attached to the outpost. The fuel was also used to help control the orientation of the station.
"All available propellant will have been used, which shows that the ATV resources have really been used to the maximum," said Bob Chesson, head of ESA's human spaceflight and exploration operations.
Nearly 1,900 pounds of propellant and about 44 pounds of oxygen were transferred to storage tanks inside Zvezda for future use.
The crew also used Jules Verne as sleeping quarters, and measurements inside the pressurized module showed lower-than-expected radiation readings, according to Chesson.
"All the systems have performed exceptionally well throughout the whole mission and continue to do so, which has allowed us to extend operations by a month," said Herve Come, Jules Verne lead mission director.
Jules Verne will spend the next few weeks doing more tests of its sophisticated optical rendezvous sensors to see if the instruments were polluted by purged propellants during the mission, according to Chesson.
The spacecraft is slated for a destructive re-entry into Earth's atmosphere Sept. 29 over the South Pacific.
Two de-orbit will lower Jules Verne's orbit into the atmosphere. Breakup of the 30,000-pound spacecraft is expected at an altitude of about 47 miles at 1347 GMT (8:47 a.m. EDT), Chesson said.
Two aircraft will be positioned along the re-entry ground track to observe Jules Verne's demise with a collection of ESA and NASA optical, infrared, ultraviolet and spectrometric imagers. The re-entry time is also being coordinated to allow observations from the space station's crew.
Engineers are busy working on the next ATV, which is scheduled to launch on an Ariane 5 rocket in the middle of 2010. Three additional ATV missions are scheduled through 2015, according to ESA.
"How the ATV has performed highlights extremely well how the benchmark of European space technology has been raised, and the wealth of expertise present in European industry," said Simonetta Di Pippo, ESA's director of human spaceflight.
"This bodes well, not only for future ATV missions to the international space station, but also for developments of this kind of technology that may eventually provide Europe with an autonomous cargo return capability and independent access to space for European astronauts," Di Pippo said.