Lift off for Albert Einstein
6 June 2013
Europe’s Ariane 5 rocket blasted into the record books on 5 June, when it lifted off from Kourou spaceport in French Guiana.
On board was ESA’s fourth Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV-4), which was named in honour of the German-born physicist, Albert Einstein – one of the most famous scientists in history. 64 minutes later, the ATV entered a 260 km high parking orbit. It then deployed its four power-generating solar wings and antenna boom. Weighing in at 20,190 kg, it was the heaviest spacecraft ever launched by Ariane.
ATV-4 is loaded with scientific experiments, spare parts, food and supplies for the International Space Station (ISS). This includes a record 2,480 kg of dry cargo, of which 620 kg were ‘last minute’ items. These were loaded while ATV-4 was on top of Ariane, less than two weeks before launch. ATV-4 also carries 2,580 kg of propellants that it can use to reboost the Station’s orbit, plus 860 kg to refill the tanks of the ISS Zvezda module. It will also pump 570 kg of drinking water, as well as 100 kg of oxygen and air, into the Station’s storage tanks.
The spacecraft’s flight is being monitored by a special control centre in Toulouse, France. It is scheduled to make an automatic docking at the ISS on 15 June. ATV-4 will spend over 4 months at the Station, providing extra storage room and a quiet rest area for the ISS crew. ATV-4 will be used to raise the Station's altitude and, if required, to steer it away from dangerous space debris.
Before its mission ends, the empty ATV will be filled with waste. On 28 October, it will undock and make a controlled re-entry over the South Pacific. The last ATV, Georges Lemaître, is being prepared for launch in 2014.