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.