A tight fit: ATV-5 cargo loading in images

ATV-5 will hold over 2600 kg of dry cargo in addition to the fuel and air it will bring to the International Space Station. Last week around 1500 kg of cargo were loaded into its cargo bay, with another 1130 kg expected to be loaded as late cargo in June or early July. Below are some pictures of the process. All images are credited to ESA/CNES/Arianespace/Optique du video du CSG


Cargo prepared for packing.


Loading into place, luckily the astronauts will not need cranes.  Loading_ATV-5_cargo

Loading the cargo.


Almost finished.


Final touches.

Click here for even more ATV packing images.

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ATV: tillverkad i Sverige

Monitoring and Safing Unit. Credits: RUAG Space

Monitoring and Safing Unit. Credits: RUAG Space

We are nearing the end of our blog posts on country contribution to ATV hardware as we feature the last European country in the series. Sweden supplied but one unit, but it is arguably one of the most important – even if it is never used. The Monitoring and Safing Unit built by Ruag space in Sweden is responsible for keeping the International Space Station and its astronauts safe during ATV's automatic docking.

The Unit keeps track of all parameters such as ATV’s speed, distance to target, angle of approach and so on and will abort a docking and park the space freighter at a safe distance from the Space Station if it considers anything amiss. As you can imagine, the Monitoring and Safing Unit is one of the most reliable computers in the world, the consequences of this computer crashing could result in a real-life crash, so no margins for error are tolerated.

Monitoring and Safing Unit on ATV.

Monitoring and Safing Unit on ATV outlined in red. Fault Tolerant Computers in yellow.

Of course the Monitoring and Safing Unit should never need to kick in to begin with, it will only act if the already very robust and grammatically better named Fault Tolerant Computer fails. Running completely independently from the Fault Tolerant Computer, the Monitoring and Safing Unit is always looking over its cousin’s virtual shoulder – ready to apply the brakes if necessary.


If the Unit decides that action is necessary it will command ATV to perform a Collision Avoidance Manoeuvre and head towards the Sun. An easy target to aim for but importantly, heading towards the Sun will ensure maximum power is generated from ATVs solar panels as they get the full blast of the Sun’s rays.

The Unit is made of two identical computers, a master and slave. Much like the Monitoring and Safing Unit monitors the Fault Tolerant Computer (which itself is also made of three computers), the Unit’s slave monitors its master, ready to take over in case the master should fail, the last backup to the backup to the backup to the backup to the backup.

Human backup: ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano and cosmonaut Aleksander Misurkin monitor ATV-4 docking. Credit: ESA/NASA

Human backup: ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano and cosmonaut Aleksander Misurkin monitor ATV-4 docking. Credit: ESA/NASA

Computers are all well and good, but the Unit can also be activated by human intervention, either from the ATV Control Centre in Toulouse, France, or by an astronaut on the Space Station.

Ruag space in Sweden has a long history of supplying ultra-reliable computers for ESA projects including the Ariane launchers, Planck and Gaia. Ruag’s other contributions to ATV were discussed in more detail in the ATV: made in Switzerland post.

For detailed information on the Monitoring and Safing Unit head over to this archive article on the ESA website that includes more funky 16-bit animations.

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Over 13 billion years after the Big Bang, Georges Lemaître heads to space

ATVEurope's space freighter ATV-5 is named after the founder of the Big Bang theory, Georges Lemaître (the theory of the origins of our universe, not the television show). Georges Lemaître was born in 1894 and developed a career as an astronomer, physics professor and Catholic priest.

Georges Lemaître was the first to suggest that the Universe had a definite beginning where all matter and energy were concentrated in one point – the theory of the Big Bang was born.

120 years after he was born and 13.82 billion years after our Universe began, Georges Lemaîtres will be honoured on the ATV bearing his name. In addition ATV Georges Lemaître will include in its cargo an image of Georges Lemaître that will be signed by the astronauts on the International Space Station. The photo will return to Earth as a testament to the scientist’s legacy.

Georges Lemaître continued to advance science throughout his life. He studied cosmic rays and worked on the three-body problem concerning the motion of three mutually -attracted bodies in space. He died in Louvain, Belgium, in 1966, at the age of 71.

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LIRIS: Laser Infra-Red Imaging Sensors demonstrator on ATV-5

Yesterday the ESA website introduced LIRIS, a new generation of imaging sensors that will be demonstrated on ATV-5. Here is some more technical information on the project:

Illustration of cooperative navigation performed between ATV and Station during ATV-4 final approach

Illustration of cooperative navigation performed between ATV and Station during ATV-4 final approach

The Laser Infra-Red imaging Sensors (LIRIS) is a technology demonstration for future non-cooperative rendezvous applications that will be demonstrated on the last ATV mission Georges Lemaître launching this year.

ATV navigation is based on cooperative rendezvous technology. At long range, relative GPS navigation is used, based on data from ATV's and the International Space Station's GPS receiver measurements. At short range, navigation uses optical sensors on ATV (videometers and telegoniometers) that bounce off a set of targets on the Space Station, the so called retro-reflectors.

To develop non‐cooperative rendezvous technologies, new types of sensors, image processing and Guidance Navigation & Control algorithms are being developed and tested. Previous ESA studies stressed the need for a rendezvous navigation based on image processing preferably coming from infrared cameras for long-range and lidar sensors for close range.

Sodern infrared sensors

Sodern infrared sensors

Airbus Defence and Space in collaboration with Sodern and Jena-Optronik proposed to use the last ATV flight to implement a demonstration that will increase technology readiness for non-cooperative Rendezvous Sensors and Guidance Navigation & Control.

The LIRIS demonstrator is made of two parts, infrared and visible imaging provided by Sodern, and lidar sensing provided by Jena-Optronik.

Jena-Optronik lidar optical head

Jena-Optronik lidar optical head

The demonstration will fly these new sensor technologies and evaluate their results compared to the traditional guidance Navigation & Control system on ATVs.

The new sensors are placed on ATV spacecraft as passengers only. The data they record will not be used by ATV itself but stored onboard for later processing. The sensors are placed on the outside of ATV while the recording unit will be in the cargo hold. When the first ATV was designed the structure was put in place to accomodate these kinds of payloads, with wires running from the pressurised module to the outside.

Operating ranges for LIRIS

Operating ranges for LIRIS

The demonstration will cover the full range of rendezvous from a far distance of at least 30 km until docking. The infrared and visible camera sensors will operate from far-range to docking and the lidar sensor from short range, about 3.5 km, to docking.

A planned fly-around of the International Space Station will test the new sensors as thoroughly as possible.

Illustration of ATV approaching Station with LIRIS sensors capturing images

Illustration of ATV approaching Station with LIRIS sensors capturing images

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ATV-5 target launch date: 25 July

ATV-4 launch in 2013. Credit: ESA–S. Corvaja

ATV-4 launch in 2013. Credit: ESA–S. Corvaja

A target date has been set for ATV George Lemaître's  launch: 25 July. Space trivia: on that same day in 1984 Svetlana Savitskaya became the first woman to perform a spacewalk during the Salyut 7 mission.

As usual the last ATV in the series will sit atop an Ariane launcher leaving Earth from Europe's spaceport in Korou, French Guiana.

Of course this is spaceflight and many things can happen in the next four months. Follow this blog for the latest updates and news.

Here is a taster of what we have in store, a beautiful time-lapse video of ATV-4's launch last year:

[youtube Df1pMZ-Lqfs]

Posted in Ariane 5, ATV-5, Launch, Launch preparations | 3 Comments

ATV-1 rockets skyward

Sunday was the day: 9 March 2008. ATV-1 Jules Verne was carrying several original Jules Verne manuscripts, a fabulous recognition for the famous writer and thinker.



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ATV-5 mission patches

ATV-5 mission patches available for order!

ATV-5 patch

ATV-5 patch

We have this info from Emblemen.net, the official ESA partner for mission patch production:

For 1-4 ATV-5 patches

  • € 10.00 per patch (within Europe)
  • € 11,50 per patch (outside Europe)

Please pay via PayPal to: info@emblemen.net

If no PayPal account, please pay via bank transfer to the account number:


Name: Mr. A. kruiter City: Wildervank The Netherlands

Don't forget to include your name and address!! Need more than 4 patches? Please ask info@emblemen.net

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ATV: Hergestellt in Deutschland

ATV-3 in Kourou showing fuel tanks. Credits: ESA/CNES/Arianespace/Optique Video du CSG

ATV-3 in Kourou showing fuel tanks. Credits: ESA/CNES/Arianespace/Optique Video du CSG

Part seven of our series on national involvement in ATV production will look at Germany. Germany is heavily involved in ATV production as Astrium Gmbh is the prime contractor. Their task is to bring together all the elements mentioned in previous posts to make a complete spacecraft that is ready for launch. Astrium is involved in the organisation, building, testing and is the main point of contact with ESA.

All three Astrium sites in Germany are involve in ATV production: Bremen, Lampoldshausen and Friedrichshaven. In addition, Astrium subsidiaries have worked on engineering the propulsion bay and avionics bay as well as system integration. Astrium included a Fault Tolerant Computer on ATV that does not crash even if two separate faults occur. If only they were available as a desktop computers! A similar system has been running on the International Space Station since 2000.

ATV thruster. Credits: Astrium

ATV thruster. Credits: Astrium

The Fault Tolerant Computer drives another Astrium product, the Propulsion Drive Electronics that send commands to ATV’s thrusters. Astrium also delivers the 28 220N engines themselves capable of reaching temperatures up to 1100°C when firing.

On the inside, Astrium contributed to the Environmental Control  Life Support Systems making sure that astronauts can breathe safely when they venture into ATV’s pressurised module.

Lastly Astrium supplies the equipment to handle ATV propellant. A very hazardous undertaking, getting ATV ready for the trip to space is not the same as a visit to the local petrol station. Filling ATV’s tanks with tonnes of fuel takes over three weeks to complete using specific safety equipment. Astrium sends a special team to set up the Fuel Ground Support Equipment before more technicians arrive at Europe’s spaceport to actually fill her up.

ATV-3 fueling. Credits: ESA/CNES/Arianespace/Optique Video du CSG–S. Martin

ATV-3 fueling. Credits: ESA/CNES/Arianespace/Optique Video du CSG–S. Martin

The propellant for ATV needs to be stored somewhere and that is where MT-Aerospace from Augsburg comes in. Specialised in light-weight structures this company delivers fuel tanks without weighing ATV down. Their expertise contributed to the load-carrying structure that makes ATV.

Jena Optronik supplies docking sensors for the ATV mission. As a subcontractor to the French Sodern they supplied the Videometer that is used used to judge distance and position between ATV and the International Space Station. ATV sends short flashes of laser light that are reflected by mirrors on the Space Station. By measuring the time it takes to receive the reflected beams of light it is possible to work out the vehicles relative speed. To judge ATV’s angle Jena Optronik also supplies a tongue-twister of an instrument: the telegoniometer. Jena Optronik has proven its system on Shuttle flights to Russian space station Mir and also on the Japanese HTV and American Cygnus vehicles .

TESAT spacecom supplies quality control for all the parts used in ATV. Work on this started as far back as 1999 but that is hardly surprising when you consider that over one million electronic parts that are delivered to make up ATV. TESAT makes sure that each part will work as it should.

ATV-4 proudly showing off its solar arrays as it approaches ISS. Credits: ESA/NASA

ATV-4 proudly showing off its solar arrays as it approaches ISS. Credits: ESA/NASA

AZUR Space supplies the individual solar cells that make up ATV’s solar panels. They are shipped to The Netherlands where Dutchspace weaves them into the 20-m solar arrays.

OHB Gmbh developed and tested ATV’s shield, known as the MDPS, or Meteoroid and Debris Protection System. The MDPS was discussed in the ATV Made in Switzerland blog post, its main purpose being to protect the spacecraft from objects hitting it at high speed while travelling through space.

ATV cabling. Credits: OHB

ATV cabling. Credits: OHB

OHB also takes care of the daunting task of organising the cables on ATV. With roughly five kilometres of wires and cables connecting ATV’s computers with its valves, motors and relays you can imagine that things could quickly get messy. At our homes and at work monitors, mice, keyboards and internet cables quickly become tangles behind our desks, with mice often getting unplugged instead of external hard drives. This error is not an option on ATV, luckily OHB is on the job.

ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano confirms ATV-4 air and systems work perfectly after docking with ISS. Credits: ESA/NASA

Thumbs up! ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano confirms ATV-4 air and systems work perfectly after docking with ISS. Credits: ESA/NASA

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Samantha’s logbook L-291: ATV training



ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti passed her final ATV training exam on 6 February.

Today Sasha and I passed our ATV rendezvous exam and were officially certified to perform the monitoring of the ATV docking.

As you probably know, the Automated Transfer Vehicle is totally autonomous in its approach and docking to the International Space Station. In fact, there is no way to take manual control of ATV and bring it in for docking, as our Russian crewmates can do with the Progress cargo ship.

Read more on Samantha's G+ page.

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Not ATV but…

@universetoday tweeted this image last week from NASA showing the first Orion test flight model:

The image shows a test model of the Orion capsule that will hold astronauts on missions to the Moon and beyond. Some followers asked if this image shows ESA’s ATV-derived service module that will propel the astronauts to their destination and back while keeping them warm and providing oxygen and other necessities for human life. The answer is no as ESA’s service module is not needed for its first test flight.

Fairing integration at Kennedy Space Center. Credit: NASA

Fairing integration at Kennedy Space Center. Credit: NASA

NASA is planning the first test flight this year to verify the habitable module can withstand reentry into Earth’s atmosphere amongst other tests. The service module is not a part of this flight as the Delta IV rocket used to launch this test model will propel it into an elliptical orbit, sending the crew module up to fall back to Earth under its own accord.

During its brief time in space all propulsive needs of this test model will be provided either by the Delta IV upper stage or by the habitable module itself. It will not need to supply life-support– the test flight is unmanned. A working service module is not required for this test and ESA was never asked to deliver a model.

Instead NASA contractor Lockheed Martin built an adapter derived from the structural design of the service module to attach the Orion test model to its launcher.

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