ATV parking lights

ATV-5 departs the Station. Credits: NASA

ATV-5 departs the Station. Credits: NASA

This ATV blog is in the process of being archived and going into retirement but great questions are still coming in that we feel obliged to answer. In response to our “ATV-made in USA” post Marcin asked:

What's the configuration of lights on an ATV? It's not clear from the video... all of them are white?

Each ATV had five lights, two at the front left and right, one at the bottom, one at the top, and one at the back. The lights were only turned on during the spacecraft’s approach to the International Space Station and shortly after undocking.

The lights were requested by the astronauts who understandably wanted to be able to check the 20-tonne spacecraft’s approach at long distances and without sunlight. The lights flashed with a similar blink rate to aircraft lights but each set of lights flashed with different frequencies so the astronauts could check the spacecraft’s attitude on approach.

Normal incandescent light bulbs were used to avoid unnecessary costs and shorten the ATV development time.

Interestingly the light at the back of ATV was never seen in space as it approached and left the Station pointing with its hatch forward at all times. The rear light was placed as a precaution but even when designing ATV the engineers knew that if all went well it would never be seen!

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A long time ago in our galaxy…

Expedition 45 "Return of the Jedi" poster. Credits: NASA

Expedition 45 "Return of the Jedi" poster. Credits: NASA

The ATV programme might be over, but the legend lives on. Our favourite X-Wing aircraft shows up in NASA's Expedition 45 poster to the left of the green lightsaber held by Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko. This is fitting as Oleg is an ATV master, he was on the International Space Station during ATV's maiden flight Jules Verne in 2008 and monitored docking of ATV Edoardo Amaldi with ESA astronaut André Kuipers in 2011.

Sergei Volkov, holding the blue lightsaber, was also on the Space Station with Oleg when Jules Verne arrived. They even posed for a picture together inside the spacecraft (see last image below).

All the astronauts in this Expedition 45 poster will be on the International Space Station during ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen's 10-day 'iriss' mission launching 1 September.

Sergei Volkov et Oleg Kononenko monitor docking of ATV Jules Verne Credit: NASA

Sergei Volkov and Oleg Kononenko monitor docking of ATV Jules Verne Credit: NASA

Andre Kuipers and Oleg Kononenko training for ATV docking

Andre Kuipers and Oleg Kononenko training for ATV docking

Oleg and Sergei inside ATV Jules Verne. Credits: NASA

Oleg and Sergei inside ATV Jules Verne. Credits: NASA

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ATV-CC decommissioning: Going, going…

Formatting, disconnecting and - Hop! - dismantled! Decommissioning the ATV Control Centre, especially the Main Control Room, is a long task, with a bit of nostalgia. The operation will last two to three months. A team of twenty technicians, both ESA and CNES, are working on this (sad) project. Credits: CNES (original post via CNES web).

Démantèlement ATV-CC from CNES on Vimeo.

Formatage, débranchement et hop, on démonte ! Le démantèlement est une tâche assez longue, avec un peu de nostalgie. L’opération va durer entre 2 et 3 mois. Une vingtaine de personnes, que se soit du personnel CNES ou ESA, s’occupe de la fin de vie de l’ATV-CC. Crédits : CNES.

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ATV in numbers

ATV infographic

ATV infographic

Another great recap of the five ATV missions from France's space agency CNES... in numbers. This infographic in French gives an impression of the scale of running a spacecraft programme, below is a rough translation, without the references to Star Wars. The full PDF can be downloaded here.

  • 300 hours of simulation each mission.
  • 375 gigabytes of telemetry received.
  • 150 000 commands sent
  • 1 500 000 ligns of code
  • 31 astronauts worked on ATV in space
  • 500 people worked at ATV Control Centre
  • 14 400 orbits of Earth
  • 14 km of cables for the control centre
  • 15 terabytes of data for the five mission
  • 1000 computers used, 700 in Toulouse, France
  • 4 debris avoidance manoeuvres performed
  • 35 tonnes of cargo transported
  • 213 manoeuvres executed, each calculated up to 20 times beforehand

The second page is similar to what inspired our "Do you speak ATV?" feature.

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Interactive book on ATV Control Centre

Our friends at France's space agency CNES have published an excellent interactive book on ATV seen through the eyes of the ATV Control Centre. From the first signatures in 1995 to the last command sent, the web documentary covers five mission and 15 years of adventure.

The site is in French but has great pictures and layout and is worth a look for everybody. Click on the image to enter the world of ATV Control Centre:

ATV Control Centre web documentary

ATV Control Centre web documentary

Posted in ATV-1, ATV-2, ATV-3, ATV-4, ATV-5, ATV-CC, Operations | Leave a comment

ATV: Made in America

ATV-3 approaches Station. Credits: ESA/NASA

A rare view of an ATV from behind showing its four main thrusters. Credits: ESA/NASA

Even though the last of the ATVs, Georges Lemaître, ended its mission last month we still have one more country to finish our ‘ATV-Made-in’ series: the United States of America.

American company Aerojet supplied ATV’s large 490-N thrusters. Each ATV has four of the model R-4D engines, which were delivered to Airbus in Germany for integration into ATV.

These engines derive from the thrusters that powered Apollo astronauts to the Moon and are similar to the engines used on the Japanese HTV – but with an extended nozzle to provide higher performance. The engines will be used on NASA’s Orion spacecraft for which ESA is supplying the first service module, so you could safely say they have much experience in space.

R-4D thruster. Credits: Aerojet

R-4D thruster. Credits: Aerojet

The engines were selected at the beginning of the ATV series for their reliability (we are talking about a time when people paid with French Francs, Deutchmark and Guilders in Europe) and because they were already used on European telecom satellites. At that time, there was no similar engine made in Europe having similar performance.

The closest engine in Europe is the 500-N engine whose development started in Germany for ESA’s Alphabus satellite in 2004-2005. To ensure availability for the entire ATV fleet, ESA decided to buy 28 of the Aerojet engines (then called Kaiser Marquardt) in one batch to serve all ATVs.

The engines left over from the ATV programme are already earmarked for use on Orion’s European Service Module.

Excelitas is an expert in lighting and took care of the lights for ATV navigation and the Integrated Cargo Carrier (they were called Perkin Elmer at the time the first ATV was built).

The navigation lights are the blinking exterior lights astronauts used on approach to see where an ATV was. Once docked, the interior cargo bay lights allow the astronauts to see the cargo, obviously. Lastly, Excelitas supplied the two Visual Video Targets on ATV’s exterior docking cone, which allowed the astronauts on Station to monitor the spacecraft’s approach.

This video of the final ATV undocking shows the navigation lights clearly:

Other US suppliers provided various small propulsion components and parts of the Environmental Control and Life Support system.

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ATV’s internal camera delivered data, but not images

A prototype ‘blackbox for spacecraft’ running inside ESA’s cargo ferry as it burned up in the atmosphere managed to return data to the ground but, sadly, the images it took were lost in transit.



ESA’s fifth and final Automated Transfer Vehicle broke up as planned over an uninhabited region of the South Pacific at about 18:04 GMT on Sunday 15 February, having separated from the International Space Station the day before.

Aboard it was the Break-Up Camera, designed to record ATV’s death throes in the infrared and transfer the results to the SatCom heatshield-protected sphere.

Surviving the break-up, SatCom then broadcasts its stored data to Iridium telecom satellites as it plummets back to Earth.
ATV-5 reentry seen from Space Station

How did it turn out in practice? The good news is that the team did indeed receive a message from the SatCom on Sunday evening at 18:08 GMT, four minutes after ATV broke up.

Read the full story in ESA website

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More images of ATV’s last flight – from Slovakia

While we wait for news from the Break-Up Camera we received more amazing pictures of ATV-5 in space via our blog contact form - thanks Marian! 

Your invitation to send images of ATV-5 has me caught up now, but I have some interesting images. The first is from 14 February and captures the last common flyby of International Space Station and ATV-5:

14 February and captures the last common flyby of International Space Station and ATV-5
And this is from 15 February and captures single ATV-5 on its last orbit (ATV in culmination last shined with unique a flash):

from 15 February and captures single ATV-5 on its last orbit (ATV in culmination last shined with unique a flash)

With best regards
Marian from Slovakia

Posted in ATV-5, Free flight, Fun stuff, ISS, Operations, Undocking/reentry | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Last goodbyes: ATV-5 seen from Earth – a tribute gallery

Update 2: Finally got round to posting everything today. Apologies for the delay. Due to overwhelming participation and the decision to give everybody a little something, we distributed the prizes randomly. Some will receive but an ATV-5 sticker, some will receive patches or even an ATV torch. We ran out of ATV goodies, so astronaut missions are also included in the pot. It is pure luck what you get.

Update: We have decided to give everybody in this tribute gallery an ATV or ESA goodie. You will be contacted shortly via Twitter or email to send us your address. Thanks so much for sharing ATV's last flight!

When we invited everyone to send us pictures of ATV-5 streaking over skies with the International Space Station for Valentine's day, we didn't expect such an overwhelming response. We received inputs from UK, Belgium, France, Norway, Germany, The Netherlands and Poland - wow!

Below are (almost) all the photos we managed to collect including a video. Thanks for sharing this moment with the world, we will miss ATV!

We have not quite decided exactly how we will distribute the prizes (we need to count how much ATV swag we have left) but we know how to contact you...


Posted in ATV-5, Free flight, Fun stuff, Operations, Video | 4 Comments

Next up… Orion!

Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship....

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