ATV cargo carrier front cone Credit: ESA /CNES/Arianespace/Photo optique video du CSG

Front cone and hatch of the ATV-1 cargo carrier Credit: ESA /CNES/Arianespace/Photo optique video du CSG

In all the excitement to prepare and announce the first-ever CNES/ESA ATV Docking SpaceTweetup, set for 18/19 March (register online here by 26 Feb) we, uhmmm, got a little behind in our actual ATV reporting.

Here’s an update! 🙂

First, the ATV hatch was closed on the evening of 16 February, after the final flushing of internal air, which was done that morning. The flushing helps to remove contaminants and replaces the interior air with ultra-clean air pumped in from a special supply. This is necessary to ensure that ATV’s internal atmosphere meets the ISS standards right from the moment the hatch is opened after docking.

Now, the teams at Kourou are now getting ready for encapsulation – lowering the aerodynamic cone over top of ATV on top of the giant Ariane 5 launcher. This is set for Monday, 27 February. Before the fairing is lowered, a lot has to be done – making sure the cargo carrier is sealed, removing the protections on all equipment and checking all the MLI (multi-layer insulation) blankets, etc.

Once that’s done, ATV-3 will not be seen again until it’s in orbit, approaching the ISS!

I spoke earlier this evening with some of the ESA team at Kourou working on air quality; ESA’s Mei Mei Stienstra and Olivier Schmeitzky gave a fascinating report on this critical human-safety effort (check back in a day or so for the full report).