ATV Service Module

Service Module being hoisted for mating with the Integrated Cargo Carrier

The ATV Service Module, which is not pressurised, includes the spacecraft's propulsion systems, electrical power, computers, communications and most of the avionics. The avionics bay, a cylindrical ring 1.36 m high, is located in the upper part of the Service Module.

ATV's propulsion system provides the spaceship with the orbit transfer capability and reboost support for the International Space Station.

As a fully automatic spaceship, ATV navigates using four main engines (490 N thrust) plus 28 smaller thrusters (220 N) for attitude control. All valves and thrusters are controlled by four control units connected to the main ATV computers.

Power system and avionics

For launch, the ATV Service Module is mounted on the Ariane 5 launcher using a cylindrical adapter which has a locking and separation system that is jettisoned 70 minutes after liftoff.

100 minutes after liftoff, four solar arrays unfold to reach a total span of 22.3 m - these provide electrical power to rechargeable batteries.

During launch ATV is enclosed in protective fairing

The silicon-based solar cells - spread on four carbon-fibre reinforced plastic sandwich panels per array with a total surface of 33.6 m² (4 x 8.4 m²) — are able to produce an average of 4800 Watts.

Mounted on the ATV Service Module, the four Sun-tracking arrays are totally independent and can get the best orientation to the Sun thanks to rotating mechanisms.

The ATV Service Module also accommodates several rechargeable and non-rechargeable batteries and some redundant items like a Sun sensor and a Russian-made KURS antenna.

The avionics bay is the brain of the ATV is located in a non-pressurised module and accommodates critical items such as computers, gyroscopes, navigation and control systems and communications equipment. All these items are mounted on ten equipment carrier trays which are protected from temperature variations by state-of-the-art variable conductance heat pipes.

The ATV Service Module takes advantage of a very sophisticated architecture for its hardware and software that comprise the overall avionics set up. For example, lots of hardware chains and avionics lanes are built independently, in order to keep ATV functioning in case of hardware failure or main malfunction.

Reboost capability

All the propellant tanks for spaceship propulsion are located in the ATV Service Module, between the main engines and the avionics bay. There are eight titanium propellant tanks and two high-pressure helium tanks. The tanks hold up to seven tonnes of liquid propellants (MMH – Monomethylhydrazine, and N2O4 - nitrogen tetroxide), part of this is used for the Station attitude and orbit control. The propellants are pressurised by helium stored in two carbon-fibre tanks.

ATV shortly after liftoff

After docking, ATV can perform Space Station attitude control, debris avoidance manoeuvres and raise the orbit of the more than 200-tonne Station to overcome the effects of atmospheric drag. In order to perform this reboost ATVs can use up to 4 tonnes of their own propellant at intervals of 10 to 45 days. In raising the Station's orbital altitude ATV resembles a tugboat, pushing the whole orbital outpost.

With its own flight control and propulsion systems, ATV has a high level of autonomy allowing it to stay in free flight for long periods of time, as well as to dock even if the Station is totally dormant and uninhabited.

Once its resupply mission is finished, ATV is filled with waste and undocks automatically. The Service Module thrusters use their remaining fuel to deorbit the spacecraft, sending the craft on a steep flight path to perform a controlled destructive reentry high above the Pacific Ocean.

Last update: 3 June 2013

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