Europe's largest automated spacecraft cleared for lift-off
The European Space Agency's (ESA) Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) Jules Verne has received the green light for its first flight in February 2008. The pressurised module of the largest, most complex automated spacecraft ever developed in Europe has been inspected and closed, fulfilling the most stringent rules of human space flight. The 20-tonne ATV is now set to re-supply the International Space Station (ISS), the research project among the space agencies of a number of European countries (ESA), the United States (NASA), Russia (RKA), Japan (JAXA), and Canada (CSA).
The spacecraft was named after Jules Verne, pioneering science fiction writer and author of work such as Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea (1870).
As the first human-rated spacecraft to be launched from Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana (situated in the northeast of South America), Jules Verne represents a milestone in some 40 years of European space activity. The safety inspection clearance confirms that all is firmly on track for the scheduled launch in less than a month.
ESA’s ATV Deputy Project Manager Patrice Amadieu said, 'In order to eliminate any risk of disease or contamination for the astronauts on board the ISS, we have disinfected all the surfaces inside the pressurised module with pure hydrogen peroxide. Even if it is launched unmanned, Jules Verne respects all the human spacecraft safety requirements. This also applies to the seven tonnes of cargo carried into orbit.'
Over a period of five days, the cabin's interior was first disinfected, filled with approximately 1 300 kg of "dry cargo" (including 500 kg of food, 80 kg of clothing and several kilograms of spare parts) and then disinfected a second time.
The ATV’s tanks were also filled with some 268 l of drinking water for the ISS astronauts. Once in orbit, the water will be transferred via hoses to small portable containers or to the main tank on the Russian Service Module, where Jules Verne will be docked for four months.
'Before closing the aft rear door of the pressurised module [through which the cargo was loaded], we inspected one last time the entire cabin to be sure that everything was secured for the launch and safely placed where the ISS crew will expect the different items to be. After working for seven years on the programme, it was a special feeling to be the last person inside Jules Verne before it is launched into orbit,' said Charlotte Beskow, ESA engineer in charge of on-orbit crew operations.
Furthermore, until launch, the air inside the pressurised module will be analysed regularly to be sure that cargo off-gassing (caused by objects that emit odours and odourless gases that can endanger the cabin environment and signify a serious concern in space) will not alter the quality of the air brought into orbit and then mixed with the ISS's atmosphere. This process ensures that the air the astronauts breathe is clean, and free from particles, bacteria and microbes.
The ATV's launch preparation campaign began in August 2007. On 15 December, the two major pieces of the ATV (a pressurised payload unit and an avionics/propulsion unit) were carefully joined. In its final configuration state, the size of the ATV resembles that of a double-decker bus.
Jules Verne will be transferred to a site for integration atop a special Ariane 5 launcher, in time for the scheduled launch and maiden voyage to the International Space Station in February 2008.