Automated Transfer Vehicle Control Centre

On Thursday 17 April ESA Director of Human Spaceflight, Mr Jörg Feustel-Büechl, will sign a contract with the French space agency (CNES), represented by its President Yannick d’Escatha, for the development and operations of the Automated Transfer Vehicle Control Centre in Toulouse, France.

The main functions of the Centre will be to command and control the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV). Under the contract CNES will take responsibility for management of the Centre’s development and prepare, coordinate and support all ATV operations on behalf of ESA.

The ATV is an unmanned vehicle which will be put into orbit from Kourou, French Guiana, by Europe’s Ariane 5 launcher. It will supply the International Space Station with pressurised cargo, water, air, nitrogen, oxygen and attitude control propellant. It will also remove waste from the Station and periodically re-boost the Station to a higher altitude to compensate for atmospheric drag. The first ATV is expected to be launched in September 2004.

After launch, coming under the responsibility of the Control Centre in Toulouse, the ATV will separate from Ariane and, using its own navigation systems, make a three-day journey to the International Space Station, where it will use its eye-like rendezvous sensors to dock automatically. It will then remain an integral Station element for up to six months.

The Automated Transfer Vehicle is being developed in Europe by 1500 engineers from 10 European countries and 30 companies, with EADS-LV as prime contractor. It and the Columbus laboratory are Europe’s most significant contributions to the International Space Station programme, representing Europe as a key partner in this international cooperative project.

“The Automated Transfer Vehicle is Europe’s most challenging spaceship to date and will play a vital role in Station servicing,” said Mr Feustel-Büechl. “The vehicle is another major European contribution to the Space Station programme and is helping to cover Europe’s share of Station operations. Its development is also promoting economic development and providing employment in our European space industry.”

Over the course of the Station’s 10-year lifetime, it is expected that ESA will build at least 8 Automated Transfer Vehicles.