European Service Module gets real

On 17 November, ESA signed a contract in Berlin with the Airbus Defence and Space division to develop and build the European Service Module for Orion, NASA’s new crewed spacecraft. It is the first time that Europe will provide system-critical elements for an American space transportation vehicle.

Credits: NASA

Credits: NASA

NASA intends to use this service module for the 2017 unmanned flight of Orion. The vehicle will perform a high-altitude orbital mission around the Moon. This flight will be a precursor for future Orion human space exploration missions beyond low-Earth orbit.

The official name of Orion is ‘Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle’, because the spacecraft can be used to conduct different missions. Eventually, NASA will use Orion to send astronauts to Mars.

The design of the European Service Module (ESM) is based on the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), the European supply craft for the International Space Station. It is a major achievement, as this is the first European development of a human spacecraft operating beyond Earth orbit.

“Being selected by NASA to develop critical elements for the Orion project – currently their most important exploration project – is a clear recognition of Europe’s performance in the frame of the ATV programme,” says Nico Dettmann, Head of ESA’s Space Transportation Department.

“Cooperation with NASA is going well. It is fruitful and is happening with the same good spirit as with the International Space Station partnership,” he adds.

The ESM is a cylindrical module with a diameter of 4.5 metres and a total length – main engine excluded – of 2.7 metres. It is fitted with four solar array ‘wings’ with a span of 18.8 metres. Its dry mass is 3.5 metric tons and it can carry 8.6 tons of propellant. Besides propulsion and power, ESM carries consumables.

The Critical Design Review (CDR) is planned for 2015.

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ATV education challenge relaunched

ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst with box-set during his Blue Dot mission on the Space Station. Credits: ESA/NASA

ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst with box-set during his Blue Dot mission on the Space Station. Credits: ESA/NASA

In August we offered five limited-edition box-sets of ATV heritage in a competition for the best educational videos on physics. The prize includes all five ATV mission patches and pins with five DVD’s worth of educational videos packaged in a sleek blue box.

Never before has a competition on the ATV blog had such little response. An explanation for this baffles us, considering the amazing prize we have on offer. ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst himself was overjoyed on receiving his prize for his unique demonstration of the physics behind a comet landing, he took a picture of himself with the box set on the International Space Station. Watch his entry below:

We did receive two entries from people on Earth through the normal channels. Rafael from Spain was the first to kick of the competition with a short video on the laws of reflection:

Shortly afterwards Simon sent in this excellent film explaining ATV’s reentry into Earth’s atmosphere and the physics behind their burnup. He even modifies a bicycle pump to power a led lamp to prove his point and inspire teachers:

Not too late to win

The three pioneering individuals above will receive their prizes soon, but we have decided to extend the deadline yet again to allow another three people a chance to win. Make a video, post it online using the service of your choice, and link to it in the comments on the ATV education challenge post.

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ATV-5 mid-mission report: EXCELLENT

ATV-5. Credits: Roscosmos-O. Artemyev

ATV-5. Credits: Roscosmos-O. Artemyev

ESA’s ATV-5 mission manager Massimo Cislaghi sent this mid-mission report on ATV Georges Lemaître:

About 3.5 months have passed since the launch of ATV Georges Lemaître on 29 July, and about 3.5 months are left before the end of its mission. We do not have a fixed date yet, but we are targeting the end of February 2015.

ATV-5. Credits: Roscosmos-O. Artemyev

ATV-5. Credits: Roscosmos-O. Artemyev

Therefore, as my more famous compatriot Dante Alighieri used to say "nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita ..." or "halfway through the journey of our life..." I take the liberty to provide you with a short summary of how the mission is going, even if this could be summarised with just one word: EXCELLENT.

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ATV Control Centre congratulates Rosetta teams

Philae heading for comet 67P. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Philae heading for comet 67P. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

A message from the ATV Control Centre team who had their own concerns yesterday but managed to follow the Rosetta landing nonetheless:

The ATV Control Center team in Toulouse, France, congratulates our Rosetta-Philae ESA-DLR-CNES colleagues for their fantastic performances!

We know the efforts made to prepare and ensure a successful landing, the days and nights on console to be trained and ready for the Great Day. We all followed from the ATV-Control Centre or from the Cite de l'Espace or via internet, the incredible day of 12 November.

Performing the rendezvous with the comet was a major success for Europe, and especially for the Flight Dynamics and Control Center teams. Yesterday you demonstrated again, if that was necessary, the international expertise of our European teams.

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ATV-5 delivers second urgent debris avoidance

ATV-5 approaching Station in August. Credits: Roscosmos-O. Artemyev

ATV-5 approaching Station in August. Credits: Roscosmos-O. Artemyev

Just two weeks after ATV Georges Lemaîtres moved the International Space Station out of the way of a potentially dangerous piece of space debris, the international partners that run the Station asked ATV-5 to do it again.

The ATV Control Centre in Toulouse, France, received a warning from NASA yesterday about a piece of debris from a Yaogan satellite. The debris is small but well tracked and was considered a high concern.

The threat was later confirmed and the ATV Control Centre teams issued a Predetermined Debris Avoidance Manoeuvre pushing the International Space Station to increase its speed by 0.5 m/s.

ATV Georges Lemaître thruster's succesfuly executed the urgent avoidance earlier today.

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‘Field of the Sky’ meteorite flying above our skies again

Alexander with artwork on Station. Credits: ESA/NASA

Alexander with artwork on Station. Credits: ESA/NASA

Scottish conceptual Katie Paterson created an artwork 'Campo del Cielo, Field of the Sky' based on a 4.5-billion-year-old meteorite that was cast, melted, and recast back into a new version of itself while retaining its original form.

The artwork has been on display as part of the 2014 Edinburgh Art Festival, and ESA agreed to load a small sample of the meteorite on the supply spacecraft ATV Georges Lemaître as a symbolic return to space.

Meteorites and asteroids, imbued with cosmic history are crucial to the scientific understanding of our Solar System and our origins on Earth. ESA is involved in many activities in this domain, most notably the comet catcher Rosetta as well as near-Earth object studies and future robotic and human missions.

Before the Campo del Cielo meteorite was handed over to ESA for safety testing it was on show at the UK’s prestigious Turner Contemporary gallery. The piece is now back in space as an artwork on the International Space Station.

ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst is responsible for unloading the cargo from ATV Georges Lemaître and took a moment to observe Katie’s artwork in weightlessness.

NASA astronaut Stan Love commented on the work of art: “The process of recasting resets the "clock" for geological age-dating techniques and erases the very interesting crystal patterns seen in ancient iron meteorites. We have taken an object that came to Earth from space, put a uniquely human signature on it, and returned it to space. On the most fundamental level, it's a way of communicating with the universe.”

Alexander with artwork on Station. Credits: ESA/NASA

Alexander with artwork on Station. Credits: ESA/NASA

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Tanking up with oxygen - view from above

ATV Georges Lemaître has delivered its 100 kg of oxygen to the International Space Station as reported via the ATV Control Centre during the first, second and third transfer from ATV-5's tanks to the Station. After questions on Facebook the team at ATV Control Centre even took time to explain how the amount of oxygen released is calculated.

But how does an oxygen transfer work for the astronauts on the International Space Station? ATV-5 loadmaster and ESA astronaut Alexander filmed the process from his weightless abode for our viewing pleasure:

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Tanking up a thirsty ISS

Today, ATV-5 completed the first water delivery of the mission so far, transferring 88l. Colleen Boggs, ATV Cargo Operations Engineer at ATV-CC, reports.

We've just completed the first water transfer for ATV-5, delivering 88L of Russian water from Tank #2 into four Russian EDV containers (Russian water containers; 22 litres each).

ATV water & gas control panel Credit: ESA/NASA

ATV water & gas control panel Credit: ESA/NASA

This will be the first of several transfers, as we launched ATV5 with three full water tanks (the first mission to have them fully loaded!).

The crew were able to set up and finish today's transfer faster than expected, so things are looking good – and we have now completed about 10 % of water unloading.

Once a tank becomes empty, it will undergo a bladder integrity check – to ensure there are no leaks – before it is free to accept liquid waste from the ISS.

So with the unloading of water and reloading of waste (up to about 850 L), the water control panel will see lots of activity in the coming months!

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ATV-5 pushes Station away from space debris

International Space Station in 2011 with ATV-2. Credits: ESA/NASA

International Space Station in 2011 with ATV-2. Credits: ESA/NASA

An update from Jean-Michel Bois, head of ESA's mission team at ATV Control Centre, on today's debris avoidance:

This evening the ATV Control Centre performed the first-ever International Space Station Predetermined Debris Avoidance Manoeuvre (PDAM) using ATV Georges Lemaître to boost the orbiting science complex 0.5 m/s at 17:42 GMT (18:42 CET).

The objective was to avoid an object – 34881 (COSMOS 2251 debris) –  set to cross the Space Station's orbit at 20:13 GMT (21:13 CET). The slight change in the Station's orbit due to the undocking of the Progress 51P this morning was not enough to avoid the debris.

The PDAM time computation did not put the Space Station in a risky situation with respect to other debris (in particular, object 31289  from FENGYUN 1C, that is passing close but that was not critical in the Station's initial orbit).

A PDAM procedure was initiated by the Station's international community in 2012 in response to a late detection of debris - just 6 hours before conjunction!

A PDAM activates a predefined manoeuvre with a unique boost value. This 'coarse' manoeuvre is enough to avoid a specific debris object and avoids the long computations necessary to define a tuned trajectory and boost value. The previous PDAM used the Russian Progress cargo vessel thrusters, but since ATV-4, ATV-CC can do the procedure as well.

This manoeuvre demonstrates again the reliability of ATV and the skill of the joint ESA/CNES ATV operations teams. ATVs have delivered all services they were designed for over the course of their five missions.

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Successful LIRIS demonstration

ATV-5 with LIRIS demonstrator. Credits: ESA/NASA

ATV-5 with LIRIS demonstrator. Credits: ESA/NASA

The Laser Infra-Red Imaging Sensors (LIRIS) demonstration, developed by Airbus for ESA tested new rendezvous sensors during a special flyunder manoeuvre 8 August, four days before ATV Georges Lemaître docked  with the International Space Station.

The LIRIS sensors were activated during ATV-5's mission and monitored at the ATV Control Cetnre with experts on the LIRIS team confirming that the sensors were working correctly.

LIRIS team at ATV-CC after docking and switch-off (Credits: ESA)

LIRIS team at ATV-CC after docking and switch-off (Credits: ESA)

The data from LIRIS was not used by Georges Lemaître itself nor sent to ground control straight away as a large amount of data was generated. Instead data was saved on dedicated recorders. ATV-5 relied on the usual optical sensors (videometers and telegoniometers) for navigation to achieve a perfect docking with the International Space Station - an accuracy of less than 5 mm!

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