Ariane 5 ES launches with ATV – suffers early fault on orbit

An Ariane 5 ES has launched (4:03am UTC) with the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) resupply spacecraft, from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana. The “Jules Verne” will park in orbit until after shuttle Endeavour departs ATV’s eventual destination – the ISS.

Completing its first major milestone, the ATV successfully separated from its launch vehicle, after a journey of around 70 minutes, ahead of the targeted docking with the Station on April 3. However, the vehicle is suffering from a Propulsion Drive Electronics (PDE) 2 fault.

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Teams are evaluating a problem with ATV’s Propulsion Drive Electronics (PDE) 2. 

The system in question controls 25 percent of the vehicle’s thrusters, and would require extra prop usages for vehicle control should recovery fail.

The fault is believed to related to a mismatch in ox/fuel flow rates. Should there be a second PDE failure, the ATV would enter survival mode.

All burns have been canceled until further notice as troubleshooting takes place over the next few days, though ESA claim they can still proceed with the mission without the the one of four PDE strings.

Ariane 5 ES Launch Preview:

The launch will be the 33rd commercial flight of the Arianespace launcher. After delivering the ATV into a circular LEO (Low Earth Orbit), the launch vehicle’s EPS upper stage is to be ignited three times – the first will be an eight-minute burn to place the upper stage and its ATV payload into an initial elliptical orbit with a perigee of 130 km and a 260 km apogee.

Its second ignition, to occur 45 minutes later, will be a 30-second burn that circularizes the orbit and positions the EPS upper stage for its deployment of the ATV. A final EPS ignition is planned 90 minutes later, propelling the upper stage on a safe atmospheric re-entry for splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

ATV’s Mission Goals:

The ATV – three times the size of the Russian Progress resupply vehicle - has many lessons to learn, with this flight used to demonstrate its desired capabilities.

They include: Launch on Ariane 5 and safely and successfully dock with ISS. Provide reboost and attitude control of ISS. Demonstrate resupply capability for water/gas/Russian prop. Dry cargo unpacking and trash loading. Safely undock from ISS and reenter.

The 20 ton ATV is using new rendezvous technology, opening with RGPS to get close (30,000 m to 250 m), followed by digital image processing of target arrays for Final Approach (250 m to contact).

There have been two unclassified, unmanned demonstrations of this technology to date with mixed levels of success: Japanese ETS: Successful after one month of on-orbit testing prior to docking) and NASA DART: Catastrophically Unsuccessful (i.e. unplanned collision).

Demo Day 1:

Upcoming for the ATV will be a series of Demo Days, which will test its capabilities ahead of docking with the ISS.

‘ATV initiates proximity operations with ISS at a range of ~39 km and 5 km below. ATV flies to within 3.5 km of ISS and slightly above the Vbar. ATV performs a break out maneuver (ESCAPE) to conclude the Demo Day activities,’ noted NASA documentation. ‘Objectives for this day include RGPS navigation and Flight Control Monitoring (FCM).

‘ISS Crew will be involved with ATV proximity operations. Hold, Retreat and Abort command tests. Checkout of KURs. Monitor the ATV’s breakout maneuver (ESCAPE). At anytime during Demo Day 1 the crew can issue the ESCAPE or ABORT command.

‘After Demo Day 1 ESA will generate and distribute the Jules Verne ATV Demonstration Objectives Report (JADOR). MOD is required to review the JADOR data and make a Go/No Go recommendation to the IMMT for the ATV to proceed to Demo Day 2.’

Demo Day 2:

‘ATV initiates proximity operations with ISS at a range of ~39 km and 5 km below. ATV flies to with 11m of ISS then retreats to a range of 20m. ATV performs a break out maneuver (ESCAPE) to conclude the Demo Day activities. Objectives for this day include HOLD, RETREAT, RESUME maneuvers, final approach navigation, final approach relative attitude navigation and Flight Control Monitoring (FCM).

‘ISS Crew will be involved with ATV proximity operations: HOLD and RETREAT command test. Monitoring ATV’s arrival and final approach on the Vbar from 250 meters to 11 meters. Monitoring ATV’s retreat to 20 meters and the break out maneuver (ESCAPE). At anytime during Demo Day 2 the crew can issue the ESCAPE or ABORT command.


NASA recently carried out their own FRR (Flight Readiness Review) on February 13, ensuring they everyone is on the same page, as the vehicle travels behind and below the ISS, at the same time Endeavour is scheduled to be en route to the Station.

‘Currently, launch is scheduled for March 8 (Houston time). The CAM (contingency abort) demo would occur on March 12th (FD2 for 1JA/STS-123) during the phasing period which continues thru March 17,’ noted a round up of the FRR.

‘Then the ATV will loiter during the remainder of 1JA and a beta cutout period. Demo 1 and 2 are scheduled for March 29 and April 1 respectively with docking on April 3rd. If the ATV cannot be docked by the 6th, it may have to wait until after the 28P and Soyuz operations beginning April 7th.’

A large bulk of NASA’s evaluations related to the MOD (Mission Operations Directorate) department at JSC, which is responsible for Houston’s Mission Control Center (MCC). Those evaluations proved positive.

‘First ATV, ‘Jules Verne’, will rendezvous and dock to the ISS. There is no test flight,’ noted one of the numerous presentations created for the ATV mission. ‘Trilateral agreement to demonstrate safety-critical ATV functions on-orbit before they are needed for safety.

‘This is not an in-flight vehicle qualification. This is not mandatory to meet NASA Safety Requirements; they are met prior to flight. This is an activity to reduce risk since there is no test flight. There is not a lot of history/formal guidance for in-flight demonstration.

‘Some demonstrations are performed during phasing, well away from ISS. Absolute GPS, translational maneuver performance, attitude control, CAM Demo. Cannot complete all demonstrations ‘away from ISS’ since several critical demonstrations require ISS: RGPS/FCM Demonstrations (Day 1) Final Approach Demonstrations (Day 2).

‘Ground testing, analysis and simulations will gives us confidence it is OK to execute demonstration objectives.’

‘The ESA ATV team is new to manned space flight. This is not the same ESA IP team responsible for Columbus. ATV Jules Verne operations are trilateral and require realtime interactions between three control centers around the world: ATV-CC (Toulouse), MCC-M (Moscow), MCC-H (Houston)

‘Many aspects of US and Russian manned spaceflight operations will be new to them and many aspects of their ATV operations will be new to us: New Visiting Vehicle making its first flight. New Module/New Hardware.

‘New Control Center, ATV-CC in Toulouse France. New Flight Control Team in ATV-CC. New Engineering Support Team (EST) from Les Mureaux, France. Additional ESA Management being added into ISS operations.’

Had there been a problem during launch:

Given this launch involves the first Ariane 5 second stage re-ignition, back-up plans are in place should this fail. This would lead to either a controlled re-entry to destroy the stricken ATV, or possibly salvaging the mission.

‘ATV is the first payload requiring Ariane 5 second stage re-ignition. Second stage re-ignition was successfully tested in space for the first time on October 5, 2007. The re-ignition has been ground tested numerous times,’ noted another NASA FRR presentation on the ATV.

‘ESA wants to protect for the case where the Ariane 5 second stage fails to re-ignite. This failure will leave ATV in its initial 120 km x 260 km elliptical orbit.

‘ATV’s OMP execution will deploy the arrays around perigee (120 km). This perigee is lower than what the arrays are qualified for (200 km). A critical period of 150 seconds exists 16 minutes after separation to halt the OMP from deploying solar arrays and putting it onto a new recovery plan.

‘A perigee raising maneuver will be required within a few orbits to preserve the capability of a controlled destruction reentry and possibly even allow the mission to continue.’

Once docked to the ISS:

As noted, ATV’s capabilities once docked with the ISS range past just providing the Station with much required cargo, it will also bring additional reboost and attitude control ability, refueling, gas and water transfer capability.

Attitude Control will come via eight 220 N (22.4kgf) thrusters. Reboost capability will be via two of four or four of four 490 N (50kgf) thrusters (Main Engines). ATV also has four Advanced Attitude Control System (ACS) 220 N (22.4kgf) thrusters that can be used in the event a Main Engine fails.

Refueling: The ATV refueling system transfers up to 860 kg of propellant (306 kg of fuel and 554 kg of oxidizer) to the FGB propellant tanks.

Gas Transfer: ATV Jules Verne will carry 20 kg of O2 to ISS. Delivery is via a Gas Control Panel (GCP). Crew opens valve and walks away. The crew comes back to check on the condensation build up and ice behind the panel.

Water Transfer: ATV Jules Verne will carry 281 kg of water for ISS. The crew will manually transfer the water from the ATV tanks to ISS and possibly Rodnik tanks and CWCs.

Joint Underspeed Recovery (JURe): This ISS capability may not be available with ATV attached. It will at least be degraded. JURe is not a program requirement.

However, it will be cargo delivery that ATV will shine at, boosting resupply capability for the ISS by several times that currently serviced by the Russian Progress vehicle.

‘CARGO: When attached to ISS ATV’s Integrated Cargo Container (ICC) will serve as a ‘closet’. Dedicated unpack time like when a Progress arrives is not required. ATV will have its own IMS codes. Crew will access the ICC to collect and stow whatever they needs. ATV’s Center of Mass (CM) must be maintained with a predefined box. Common trash will be loaded into ATV as it becomes available.’

Coverage will be continuous during ATV’s preparation for docking via the live pages (see link at top of the article).

L2 members: All documentation - from which the above article has quoted snippets – is available in full in the related L2 sections, updated live.

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