ATV Control Centre

ATV Control Centre

Automated Transfer Vehicle
Role: Supply the International Space Station with propellant, water, air, payload and experiments.
Crew: Unmanned, but human-rated.[1]
Height: 10.3 m (34 ft)
Diameter: 4.5 m (15 ft)[2]
Launch Payload: 7,667 kg (16,903 lb)[3]
Return Payload: None
Mass at launch: 20,750 kg[2]
Pressurized Volume: 48 m3[4]
Electrical Energy
Source: 4 solar panel wings of 4 panels each and 40Ah rechargeable batteries
Size: total span 22,3 m
Generated Power: 3,800 W
On-board engines
Main engine: 4 x 490N, Aerojet (GenCorp) Model R-4D-11
Thrusters : 28 x 220N for attitude control & braking, Astrium Lampoldshausen
Endurance: Docked with the ISS for six months
Apogee: 400 km
Perigee: 300 km
Inclination: 51.6 degrees
Location: CNES's Guiana Space Centre,
Kourou in French Guiana
Site: ELA-3
Booster: Ariane 5

The Automated Transfer Vehicle or ATV is an expendable, pressurised unmanned resupply spacecraft developed by the European Space Agency (ESA).[5] ATVs are designed to supply the International Space Station (ISS) with propellant, water, air, payloads, and experiments. ATVs can also reboost the station into a higher orbit.

Four ATVs, Jules Verne, Johannes Kepler, Edoardo Amaldi and Albert Einstein, have been launched since March 2008. ESA has contracted suppliers to produce one more ATV to be flown before 2015.[6] On 2 April 2012 the ESA announced that the ATV program would end after the fifth ATV is launched in 2014.[7]

Further developments of the ATV have been studied by the European Space Agency and EADS Astrium.[8][9][10] ESA member states decided in 2012 that the ATV would be adapted to serve as the service module of the NASA Orion spacecraft. In January 2013, the ESA and NASA announced the combined Orion and ATV derived service module.[11]


The ATV is designed to complement the Progress spacecraft, having three times its capacity. Like the Progress, it carries both bulk liquids and relatively fragile freight which is stored in a cargo hold kept in a pressurized shirt-sleeve environment so that astronauts can have access to it without putting on a spacesuit. The ATV pressurized cargo section is based on the Italian-built Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM), which was a Shuttle-carried ‘space barge’ transporting equipment to and from the Station. Unlike the MPLM the ATV uses the Progress docking mechanism.

The ATV docking system consists of two videometers and two telegoniometers built by Sodern, a subsidiary of EADS.[12] Data processing for the rendezvous docking maneuver and emergency abort systems have been designed and manufactered by CRISA. Additional monitoring data is supplied by a redundant Russian-made antenna built for the Ukrainian-built Kurs,[13][14] an automatic docking system similar to those used on Soyuz manned ferries and on the Progress re-supply ship. Visual imagery is provided by a camera on the Zvezda ISS module.

The ATV, like the Progress, will also serve as a container for the station's waste. Each ATV weighs 20.7 tonnes at launch and has a cargo capacity of 8 tonnes:[3]

  • 1,500 kilograms (3,300 lb) to 5,500 kilograms (12,100 lb) of dry cargo (re-supply goods, scientific payload, etc.),
  • Up to 840 kilograms (1,850 lb) of water,
  • Up to 100 kilograms (220 lb) of gas (nitrogen, oxygen, air), with up to two gases per flight,
  • Up to 4,700 kilograms (10,400 lb) of propellant for the re-boost maneuver and refueling the station. The ATV propellant used for re-boost (monomethylhydrazine fuel and N2O4 oxidizer) is of a different type from the payload refueling propellant (UDMH fuel and N2O4 oxidizer).


The prime contractor for the ATV is EADS Astrium Space Transportation, leading a consortium of many sub-contractors. Development was started in Les Mureaux, France and moved to Bremen, Germany, as the project moved from its development to production stage of the four initial units starts. In order to facilitate the relationship between the contractor and ESA an integrated ESA team at the Les Mureaux site has been established for the duration of the development.

The first ATV arrived at the ESA spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana on 31 July 2007 after a nearly two week journey from Rotterdam harbour and was launched on 9 March 2008.[15] The Jules Verne was the first ATV to be launched.[16] EADS Astrium Space Transportation builds the ATVs in its facility in Bremen. Contracts and accords were signed in 2004 for four more ATVs, which should be launched about once every two years, bringing the total order, including Jules-Verne, to five.

To this end, RSC Energia has signed a €40 million contract with one of the main subcontractors of EADS Astrium Space Transportation, the Italian company Alenia Spazio (now Thales Alenia Space), to supply the Russian Docking System, refuelling system, and Russian Equipment Control System.[17] Within the EADS Astrium Space Transportation led project, Thales Alenia Space is in charge of the pressurized cargo carrier of the ATV. These pressurized cargo carriers are produced in Turin, Italy.

In addition to its use by ESA and Russia, the ATV was in the running to service NASA under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program. Under the proposal, a joint venture between EADS and Boeing, an ATV would be launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, using a Delta IV rocket. Ultimately, it was not awarded a contract.

The development cost of the ATV was approximately €1.35 billion,[18] and each ATV spacecraft costs about US$300 million, not including launch costs.[19]


ATVs are intended to be launched every 17 months in order to resupply the International Space Station.[20] They use GPS and a star tracker to automatically rendezvous with the Space Station. At a distance of 249 m, the ATV computers use videometer and telegoniometer data for final approach and docking manoeuvres. The actual docking to Zvezda is fully automatic. If there are any last-minute problems, a pre-programmed sequence of anti-collision manoeuvres, fully independent of the main navigation system, can be activated by the flight engineers aboard the station.

With the ATV docked, the station crew enters the cargo section and removes the payload. The ATV's liquid tanks are connected to the station's plumbing and discharge their contents. The station crew manually releases air components directly into the ISS’s atmosphere. For up to six months, the ATV, mostly in dormant mode, remains attached to the ISS with the hatch remaining open. The crew then steadily fills the cargo section with the station's waste. At intervals of 10 to 45 days, the ATV’s thrusters are used to boost the station's altitude.

Once its mission is accomplished, the ATV, filled with up to 6.5 tonnes of waste, separates. Its thrusters move the spacecraft out of orbit (de-orbit) and place it on a steep flight path to perform a controlled destructive re-entry high above the Pacific Ocean.


On 2 April 2012, ESA announced that the ATV program would end after the fifth ATV is launched in 2014. No additional ATVs will be funded.[7]

Jules Verne

Main article: Jules Verne ATV

The first flight of the ATV was delayed many times before its launch on 9 March 2008. It was named Jules Verne, in memory of the first science fiction writer of modern times. The Jules Verne carried two of the author's original handwritten manuscripts, to be received by the ISS crew as symbolic tokens of the success of the first flight.[21]

The craft was launched into a 300-kilometre (190 mi) orbit atop an Ariane 5 from the equatorial ELA-3 launch site at the Guiana Space Centre. The ATV separated from the Ariane rocket and after weeks of tests and orbit adjustments successfully docked in the International Space Station at 14:45 UTC on 3 April 2008.

In the early morning hours of 29 September 2008, the Jules Verne burnt up on entering the atmosphere above an uninhabited section of the Pacific Ocean, southwest of Tahiti.

Johannes Kepler

Main article: Johannes Kepler ATV

Launched on 17 February 2011,[22] Johannes Kepler was the heaviest payload ever launched by the European Space Agency[23] and carried 7000 kg of cargo to the ISS.[24] The first launch attempt on 15 February 2011 had been halted during the final countdown at four minutes from lift off due to an erroneous signal from one of the rocket's fuel tanks.[25]

On 29 April 2011, the engines of the ATV were used to rotate the ISS in order for a Russian Progress supply craft to dock with the station.[26]

Due to the delayed launch of STS-134 the mission of Johannes Kepler was extended, and it undocked from the ISS on 20 June 2011. It deorbited a day later on 21 June 2011.[27]

Edoardo Amaldi

Main article: Edoardo Amaldi ATV

The third ATV vehicle arrived in French Guiana in late August 2011 and was launched on 23 March 2012.[28] It docked with the International Space Station at 2231 GMT on 28 March 2012.

Albert Einstein

Main article: Albert Einstein ATV

Albert Einstein ATV is the heaviest spacecraft ever launched by Ariane, lifted off at 21:52:11 GMT on 5 June 2013.[29] It docked with the ISS on 15 June 2013 at 14:07 GMT.[30]

ATV Control Centre

ATV missions are monitored and controlled from the ATV Control Centre (ATV-CC) located at the Toulouse Space Centre (CST) in Toulouse, France. The centre is responsible for all planning and executing of every orbital maneuver and mission task of the ATV, from the moment of separation from its launch vehicle, until it burns up in the Earth's atmosphere. The centre has a direct communication line with the Columbus Control Center (Col-CC) in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany. Col-CC provides ATV-CC with access to both the American TDRSS and the European Artemis communication networks in order to communicate with ATV and the space station. ATV-CC will coordinate its actions with NASA's Mission Control Center (MCC-H) in Houston and the Russian FKA Mission Control Center (TsUP or MCC-M) in Moscow, Russia as well as the ATV launch site at the Guiana Space Centre in Kourou, French Guiana.[31]

ATV evolution proposals

Following the decision by NASA to retire the Space Shuttle in 2011, the European Space Agency launched a series of studies to determine the potential for evolutions and adaptations of the ATV. Following these studies the cargo return version (CARV) became a candidate for further development. The goal of this variant is to provide ESA with the capability to transport scientific data and cargo from the ISS to Earth. Beyond this, CARV could be enhanced to become a man-carrying spacecraft which would be launched by an adapted Ariane 5.

Mini Space Station
The MSS concept is an ATV evolution proposal for the construction of multiple ATVs with two docking ports, one at each end. The current version of the ATV is already prepared for a docking port at the back, with the main propulsion system arranged in a cylindrical fashion leaving room for a tunnel through the middle. This concept would allow Soyuz, Progress and other ATVs to dock to the back of the ATV, allowing a steady flow of Russian vehicles using the available docking ports whilst an ATV is docked for an average of around 6 months at a time.
Payload Retrieval System
The PARES would have included a small ballistic capsule similar to VBK-Raduga embedded into the ATV docking interface, which would have brought back a few tens of kilograms of payload. PARES could have featured a deployable heat shield system. The European Space Agency was also proposing the system for use with the Progress spacecraft and the H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV).
Cargo Ascent and Return Vehicle
The CARV would deliver a redesigned capsule, capable of bringing back payload from orbit. It could be installed in place of the ATV pressurized cargo hold. In addition, it could be adapted to dock at the US side of the station. Given the larger docking ports there, it would be possible to transfer complete International Standard Payload Racks (ISPRs) from the ATV to the station, which is not currently possible.
Crew Transport Vehicle
This is another option under consideration. Similar to the CARV variant, this would replace the current Integrated Cargo Carrier with a pressurized re-entry capsule. A significant difference with the cargo-only variant would be the presence of a Crew Escape System, consisting of a number of booster rockets able to pull the crew capsule away from the launcher (Ariane 5) and/or Service Module in the event of an emergency. The CTV variant of the ATV could be able to seat 4 or 5 crew members.[32]

Possibilities for launching of the ATV on other launchers than the Ariane 5 have also been investigated, in particular in the frame of Commercial Orbital Transportation Services. ESA and its member states will consider approval for further ATV development in the coming years.

Proposed crewed version

The aerospace company EADS Astrium and the German Space Agency (the DLR), announced on 14 May 2008 that they would pursue a project to adapt the ATV into a crew transportation system.[33] The craft would be able to launch a 3 man crew beyond LEO via use of a modified version of the Ariane 5 rocket and would be more spacious than the Russian Soyuz. A mock-up of the proposed craft was shown at the 2008 International Aerospace Exhibition in Berlin.[34] If the project is given ESA approval development will proceed in two stages:[35]

  • The first stage would see the development of an Advanced Reentry Vehicle (ARV)[36] capable of transporting up to 1,500 kg of cargo from space to earth safely (see CARV above) by 2015.[37] This capability would be available to ESA even if further development were to be halted. It would prove useful in the ISS program as well as the proposed Mars Sample Return Mission with NASA. ARV development would make use of work done on the Atmospheric Reentry Demonstrator, Crew Return Vehicle and related projects. The budget for this stage of the ATV overhaul would reportedly be €300 million.[38][39][40]
  • The second stage would adapt the then existing capsule to be able to transport people safely as well as upgrade the propulsion and other systems in the service module and would last 4 to 5 years at a cost of "a couple of billion [euro]" according to a senior Astrium representative.[34][41][42]

In November 2008, ESA ministers budgeted for a feasibility study into developing a re-entry capsule for the ATV, a requirement for developing either a cargo return capacity or a manned version of the ATV.[43] ESA signed a €21 million study contract with EADS Astrium on 7 July 2009.[44][45] The ARV effort was discontinued after the B1 stage due to fiscal constraints resulting from the Late-2000s financial crisis.[46]

Orion Service Module

Main article: Orion Service Module

In May 2011 the ESA director general announced a possible collaboration with NASA to work on a successor to the ATV.[47] A proposal is to be presented to ESA members in 2012.[48] This is likely to involve a design which utilises the ATV derived service module and the NASA Orion capsule.[49] On 21 June 2012, Astrium announced that they had been awarded two separate studies, each worth €6.5 million, to evaluate the possibilities of using technology and experience gained from ATV and Columbus related work for future missions. The first looked into the possible construction of a service module which would be used in tandem with the Orion capsule.[50] The second examined the possible production of a versatile multi purpose orbital vehicle.[51]

On 21 November 2012, the ESA decided they will construct an ATV derived Service Module ready to support the Orion capsule on the maiden flight of the Space Launch System in 2017.[52] The service module will likely be manufactured by EADS Astrium in Bremen, Germany.[53]

See also


External links

  • ESA's ATV blog
  • Presentation of ATV on ASTRIUM website
  • Launch Kit Flight 205 Ariane 5ES ATV Edoardo Amaldi
  • Launch Kit Flight 200 Ariane 5ES ATV Johannes Kepler
  • Launch Kit Flight 181 Ariane 5ES ATV Jules Verne
  • Automated Transfer Vehicle, Rev 1.2 PDF – ESA
  • ESA's description of the ATV
  • Thales Alenia Space page for ATV
  • ESA's ATV operations page
  • ATV brochure by Astrium
  •'s Progress Made for Launch of Europe's Delayed ATV
  • Alenia Spazio to build 6 ATVs
  • ATV Integrated Cargo Carrier
  • First ICC
  • ATV spacecraft subassembly
  • European companies working on ATV
  • ESA: ATV Evolution Scenarios
  • BBC article about the ATV
  • ESA ATV rendezvous and docking Infokit
  • Europe could get manned spaceship