14 July 2014 – Airbus Defence and Space, the world’s second largest space company, is preparing to launch the ATV (Automated Transfer Vehicle) -5 “Georges Lemaître”. In the early hours of 25 July 2014, the ATV, named after the Belgian astronomer and cosmologist, will take off on the European launcher Ariane 5 ES from the European spaceport in Kourou (French Guiana). It will set course for the International Space Station (ISS) to begin its mission, which will last about six months. Airbus Defence and Space has the overall industrial responsibility for both the ATV and the European launcher Ariane 5.
The ATV-5 is the last European space freighter to set off for the ISS. With a total weight of almost 20.3 tonnes, “Georges Lemaître” has surpassed its four predecessors by being the heaviest payload ever launched into orbit by an Ariane. The supplies for the ISS are as varied as daily life itself. Be it orange and mango juice, bread pudding, cheese noodles, socks, t-shirts or dental floss, 1,232 individual goods, including 50 kg of coffee, will travel to the ISS aboard ATV-5. ATV-5 is transporting a total of 6.6 tonnes of supplies, the greatest portion of which, at almost 4 tonnes, is made up of fuel, water and gas. Close to 2.7 tonnes of food, clothes and research equipment are packed in a total of 154 bags; 1,234 kilogrammes or 57 bags of which fall into the “late cargo” category, i.e. goods that cannot be loaded until between four weeks and 20 days before the launch.
A variety of different experiment materials and equipment will also be delivered to the ISS, including the Electromagnetic Levitator (EML) built by Airbus Defence and Space. The EML is a crucible-free melting furnace for materials research in the European Columbus space laboratory. Airbus Defence and Space developed the apparatus, which is based on the principle of electromagnetic levitation technology, as part of a series of contracts from ESA and the German Aerospace Centre (DLR). The equipment will produce findings on high-tech alloys and semiconductor materials and their properties in their melted state. These findings will be used in basic research as well as to improve industrial casting processes.
“Georges Lemaître” is expected to reach the ISS on 12 August, where it will be received by an ESA astronaut. During the rendezvous with ISS, and a few days prior, during a dedicated ISS fly-under, ATV will activate the Liris demonstrator. Liris will acquire in-flight data necessary to prove new rendezvous technologies in particular with non-cooperative targets such as space debris. This experiment will be made possible by a suite of optical sensors developed by Sodern and Jena-Optronik under the Airbus Defence and Space ATV programme.
François Auque, Head of Space Systems, explained: “The dimension and complexity of ATV, both in terms of development and production, is unique in Europe, if not the world. The success of the ATV missions has put us and our European partners in a position where we can, for the first time ever, provide system-critical elements for an American human mission.” Airbus Defence and Space is developing, for example, the service module for the American human spacecraft “Orion-MPCV” for the European Space Agency (ESA).
Airbus Defence and Space is the main contractor for the Ariane 5 launcher, the reliable European “workhorse” that has been developed and constructed to fulfil a range of heavy-load missions. In the customised ES version, the launcher will propel the ATV into circular orbit at an altitude of 260 km and with a speed of 7,600 m/s.
The launcher will set off on a north-eastern flight path over the Atlantic, shedding both solid propellant boosters, the payload fairing and, later, its cryogenic main stage (EPC). The Ariane 5 will fly in the direction of Europe and traverse France, Luxembourg, Germany, Poland, Ukraine and Russia. After approximately one hour, the ATV will be detached from the launcher’s propellant upper stage (EPS), which will safely enter the Pacific Ocean in its passivation phase while the ATV will continue on independently to the ISS.
The Ariane 5 is developed, built and customised for every single mission by Airbus Defence and Space. The company, as industrial prime contractor, manages a highly professional supply chain across Europe for equipment and stages, including their assembly in French Guiana. The main components include the EPC with the Vulcain 2 engine, both solid propellant boosters and the upper stage EPS with the Aestus engine.