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ATV “Johannes Kepler” put through its paces

Published by Klaus Schmidt on Sat Jan 16, 2010 9:52 am via: EADS Astrium
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(EADS Astrium) – Second Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) undergoes flightworthiness and functionality tests for the first time as a fully integrated unit.

Bremen – “Johannes Kepler”, the second unmanned European cargo spacecraft for the International Space Station (ISS), is currently undergoing its first flightworthiness and functionality tests as a fully integrated unit at the Astrium facility in Bremen. Preparations for the final system tests are running at full capacity. The delivery date for “Johannes Kepler” has been slated for November 2010. On behalf of the European Space Agency (ESA), Astrium is responsible for both the development and production of the ATVs. The production of ATV units two to five, as well as mission preparation and operations support, is covered by the contract which governs the operation and provision of European components to the ISS. Astrium is responsible for carrying out these activities on behalf of ESA.

“After successfully integrating the propulsion module and avionics unit into the spacecraft over the last month, we can now start testing “Johannes Kepler” as a complete unit for the first time. To do that, the spacecraft and logistics modules will be connected to each other in a soft configuration, i.e. using electrical connecting cables,” said Astrium’s Dr. Michael Menking, Senior Vice-President and Head of Orbital Systems and Exploration.

The purpose of these tests is to verify the functionality and flightworthiness not only of the hardware components but also of the flight software. The latter is responsible for the entire mission management, in particular the highly accurate, fully automatic docking to the ISS.

The ATV is one of the largest, most challenging spacecraft ever developed as a joint European project. The ATV must meet the extremely high safety requirements for human space flight. To achieve this, the ATV’s digital and electronic architecture features up to double redundancy. A fault-tolerant central computer – consisting of three computer modules – thus ensures the reliable and smooth execution of the ATV mission.

“Johannes Kepler” will be shipped to the European Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, in the second quarter of 2010. Here, the spacecraft, Integrated Cargo Carrier (ICC), solar panels and the Separation and Distancing Module (SDM), which forms the interface between the ATV and the Ariane launcher, will undergo final assembly. Afterwards the ATV will then undergo a further series of extensive tests on site before being installed in the payload bay of an Ariane 5. “If everything runs to plan, we will be able to launch our second mission to the ISS in November 2010”, Menking adds. By 2015, Astrium will produce a further three ATV transport vehicles for ESA.

The ATV is the supply spacecraft for the ISS. On a typical mission, the ATV will carry water, fuel, food and scientific equipment to the ISS. Once its mission is over, the ATV is loaded with waste, undocked from the ISS and allowed to burn up upon re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. While still docked with the space station, the ATV is also responsible for regularly boosting the ISS into a higher orbit and performing manoeuvres to avoid collisions with space debris. This is necessary because the ISS orbits at an altitude of around 400 kilometres in a region where it is slowed down by the residual atmosphere, causing it to lose altitude.

The ATV maximum payload capacity is up to 7 metric tons of net cargo. The composition of this load can vary depending on the mission: 1.5 to 5.5 metric tons of freight and supplies (food, research instruments, tools, etc.), up to 840 kilograms of drinking water, up to 100 kilograms of gases (air, oxygen and nitrogen), up to four metric tons of fuel for orbit correction and up to 860 kilograms of propellant to refuel the space station.

As part of an ESA study, Astrium is conducting research into a reusable Advanced Re-entry Vehicle (ARV) based on ATV technology. The work will examine the requirements placed on this kind of system to transport freight to the International Space Station (ISS) and back to Earth, as well as looking at the individual steps necessary to implement a programme of this type. A total of €21 million is being invested in this preliminary phase of ESA’s ARV programme. There are many good reasons for pursuing this line of development, given that there will only be limited capacity for bringing back materials from the space station to Earth once the Americans cease shuttle flights in 2010. After that, the only available vehicle for transporting materials and crew back from the ISS to Earth will be the Russian Soyuz capsule.

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