Wednesday 7 February at the European Space Agency’s European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESA/ESTEC) in the Netherlands, a ceremony was held to mark the 10th anniversary of the launch of the Columbus laboratory and the first ATV cargo resupply spacecraft, ATV-1 Jules Verne. The event provided the opportunity to relive the odyssey of these milestone European missions.
The ATV was an automated spacecraft designed to resupply the International Space Station (ISS). It was a cylinder 10 metres long and 4.5 metres across with a cargo capacity of up to 8 tonnes, carrying equipment, oxygen, fuel, drinking water, food and scientific gear. The ATV was lofted into orbit by a dedicated variant of Ariane 5, after which it docked with the ISS—a tricky operation guided from the ATV Control Centre (ATV-CC) at CNES’s Toulouse Space Centre. It could remain berthed to the ISS for up to six months, during which time it used its thrusters when necessary to boost the station’s orbit, which decays over time as a result of atmospheric drag. Its thrusters also served to manoeuvre the ISS out of the way of space debris or to facilitate docking of other visiting spacecraft. After its stay in orbit, the ATV would be loaded with waste from the station, undock and then burn up on re-entering Earth’s atmosphere.
The first vehicle, ATV-1 Jules Verne, was launched on 9 March 2008. It was followed by five more vehicles, ATV-2 Johannes Kepler on 16 February 2011, ATV-3 Edoardo Amaldi on 29 March 2012, ATV-4 Albert Einstein on 5 June 2013, and ATV-5 Georges Lemaître on 29 July 2014.
The ATV stands as a superb symbol of CNES’s expertise working for spacefaring Europe. The agency’s Launch Vehicles Directorate (DLA) was delegated oversight responsibility by ESA, meaning it was responsible for contracting with manufacturers, organizing the project involving several hundred people in Europe and adapting ground support equipment to new procedures for controlling the second stage engine’s temperature. Adaptations were executed by DLA’s Ground Development Sub-Directorate (SDS). The ATV’s maiden flight of 9 March 2008 marked the culmination of eight years of intensive efforts.
The Columbus scientific laboratory module was launched on 7 February 2008. On the ground, hundreds of research scientists from all over Europe are monitoring and working on experiments performed in the module from the ISS User Support and Operations Centres (USOCs), one of which is the CADMOS centre for the development of microgravity applications and space operations at the Toulouse Space Centre.
On the occasion of this anniversary, CNES President Jean-Yves Le Gall commented: “Ten years after its maiden launch, the ATV remains a strong symbol of European excellence in space. The ATV Control Centre, based at the Toulouse Space Centre, played a pivotal role in this adventure operating the vehicle. The Columbus module also showcased CNES’s expertise in microgravity science through CADMOS, a renowned European USOC.”