ATV Albert Einstein, Europe’s supply and support ferry, docked with the International Space Station last Saturday. This image, taken from the Station, reveals the exhaust plumes as the 20-tonne craft fires some of its 24 thrusters to adjust its approach.
At the end of this delicate and automated procedure, ESA’s largest spacecraft made contact with humanity’s largest orbital outpost at 14:07 GMT (16:07 CEST) as they travelled at 28 000 km/h.
The docking was so precise that Albert Einstein was only 11 mm off centre, hitting its target without touching the surrounding docking cone: “A hole in one,” as controllers remarked at the ATV Control Centre in Toulouse, France. Russian specialists there said they had never seen such precision before.
In this image, ATV-4 is lit by the Sun from behind as its solar cells absorb the Sun’s energy. The golden ‘lights’ are the sunlight shining through the solar panel hinges. The vertical antenna at the top is the ‘proximity boom’ that is used to communicate with the Station.
ATV Albert Einstein has brought 7 tonnes of supplies, propellants and experiments to the complex. The hatch separating them was opened this morning. ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano will now oversee the unloading and cataloguing of the cargo of over 1400 individual items.