ATV docks at the ISS – new era for European space flight

by Chris Bergin

Europe’s Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) “Jules Verne” has sucecssfully docked with the International Space Station (ISS). Contact was confirmed at 14:45 GMT. Docking was complete 7 minutes later when the hooks were closed.

Following nearly a month of on orbit operations – including two successful demonstration days, controllers in France, the United States and Russia carefully monitored the unmanned vehicle, along with its five tons of cargo, as it arrived for docking with the Station for the first time.

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Docking Day:

The ATV launched atop of a Ariane 5 from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana on March 9. The new vehicle suffered an opening challenge relating to a Propulsion Drive Electronics (PDE) 2 fault.

The system in question controls 25 percent of the vehicle’s thrusters, with the fault believed to related to a mismatch in ox/fuel flow rates. However, ATV controllers successfully corrected the fault allowing for the mission to continue unhindered.

The only other issue has been the peeling back of some Thermal Protection Blankets on the vehicle, but this has not affected ATV’s performance – of which the vehicle has exceeded its expectations. Notably ATV has used far less thank expected of its onboard propellants for attitude control.

Thursday’s docking ‘attempt’ was a repeat of Demo Day 2 (see below), though this time the vehicle continued all the way to capture with the Station’s Zvezda module. Had the attempt have to be aborted, another opportunity will follow 48 hours later.

The rendezvous and docking was monitored from ESA’s ATV Control Centre in Toulouse, France, in cooperation with the Russian control centre in Moscow and the NASA control centre in Houston.

The success of ATV would ensure much more than additional ISS supply capability, with the vehicle’s human rating roles in the future allowing the possibility of manned flight for ESA.

‘I am incredibly proud of and pleased for our European partners with this demonstration of a successful automated docking of the ATV cargo vehicle with the ISS,’ noted NASA head Mike Griffin. 

‘Only Russia has previously achieved a successful automated docking in space. This accomplishment showcases yet again the progress which has been made by the international partnership in bringing this incredible program to fruition.

‘Together with the arrival of the Columbus Module at the ISS earlier this year, the success of the ATV marks the arrival of Europe as a full-fledged space power. I applaud their achievement.’

(PREVIEW): Docked ISS Operations:

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.’

ATV’s Mission Goals:

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