Space Stations

ESA’s Last ATV Leaves Earth

By Keith Cowing
July 29, 2014
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ESA’s Last ATV Leaves Earth
ATV Georges Lemaitre Launch

The fifth and final mission of ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicle got off to a flying start today with its launch from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, heading for the International Space Station.
Georges Lemaitre is the fifth ATV built and launched by ESA as part of Europe’s contribution to cover the operational costs for using the Space Station.

“The ATV programme is one of the most remarkable space and industrial projects ever made in Europe,” notes Jean-Jacques Dordain, ESA’s Director General.

“ESA, thanks to its Member States and European industry, has provided a series of advanced spaceships, launched at regular intervals of about one year. Six years after its maiden flight, the ATV is still a unique vehicle demonstrating what ESA and European industry can do in serving European cooperation and innovation. This demonstration has convinced NASA to use the service module of ATV for their future crew transportation system.”

Named after the Belgian scientist who formulated the Big Bang Theory, ATV Georges Lemaitre lifted off at 23:47 GMT on 29 July (01:47 CEST 30 July, 20:47 local time 29 July) on an Ariane 5 ES rocket.

Once in its circular orbit 260 km above Earth, ATV-5 opened its solar wings and antenna.

“It is with great pride that we saw the fifth successful launch of this beautiful spacecraft,” said Thomas Reiter, ESA’s Director of Human Spaceflight and Operations

“But the adventure doesn’t end here. ATV knowhow and technology will fly again to space as early as 2017 powering NASA’s Orion spacecraft with the European Service Module, ushering in the next generation of space exploration.”

The freighter will complete its initial operations about 10 hours after launch. Georges Lemaitre will take about two weeks in order to test equipment and perform experiments.
Last ATV lifts off to supply the Space Station

The journey will include flying around the Station to test the LIRIS laser infrared imaging sensor, which could form the basis of future guidance, navigation and control systems for rendezvous with targets without purpose-built docking ports or space debris.

During the flyaround, the LIRIS infrared cameras will turn on some 30 km from the orbiting laboratory. For the rendezvous, both the cameras and laser sensor will be activated around 3.5 km to generate a virtual 3D model of the Station. Recorders in ATV’s cargo bay will store the data for download and analysis.

ATV Georges Lemaitre is due to dock with the Station on 12 August and will remain attached for up to six months before leaving with waste material for destruction along with the spaceship during atmospheric reentry.

Operations will be monitored from the ATV Control Centre in Toulouse, jointly run by ESA and France’s CNES space agency.

The vehicle will deliver 6602 kg of freight, including 2681 kg of dry cargo and 3921 kg of water, propellants and gases.

The cargo includes complex scientific hardware, such as the electromagnetic levitator for experiments to improve industrial casting processes. The unit will allow finer metal castings and more precise measurements than can be obtained on Earth, where readings are affected by gravity.

ATV-5 will also deliver a sophisticated joystick to test the use of force feedback in weightless environments. Force feedback could greatly improve remote control of robots in orbit.

The ATV mission also includes pioneering art: a piece of the Campo del Cielo meteorite that fell to Earth over 4000 years ago will be sent back to space on ATV. It will recreate its original voyage when it burns up in the atmosphere.

ATV’s approach will be monitored by ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst, who has been living on the Station since 29 May. During his six months in space Alexander will perform over 70 experiments as well as setting up the electromagnetic levitator.

Following the mission

In cooperation with Arianespace, ESA TV provided broadcasters with a free live video stream of the launch. Details at:

Several news items are available, which explain ATV in general and Georges Lemaitre in particular. More information at:

ESA’s Portal covered the launch live on, providing the videostream and updates of the launch.

Still images
The latest high-resolution images can be found at:
Multi-Media Gallery:
ESA’s Photo Library for Professionals:
Media image queries can be directed to

Social Media

Follow ATV-5 via:

— Twitter channels @ESA, @ESAOperations and the hashtag #ATV5
— ESA’s ATV Blog:
— Flickr ATV-5 launch campaign album:

In addition, there will be updates on:
— Facebook:
— Google+:
— Youtube:

About ATV

The Automated Transfer Vehicle is a multipurpose unmanned ferry developed by ESA to resupply the International Space Station and keep the outpost’s permanent crew of six working at full capacity. Carried into orbit by Europe’s Ariane 5, each spacecraft can deliver up to 7 tonnes of cargo to the Station, including supplies, equipment, water, air, nitrogen, oxygen and fuel.

In addition, ATV refuels the Station, provides attitude control and raises the orbit when needed to counteract the atmospheric drag that slowly causes it to lose altitude. It can even avoid collisions by moving the Station out of the way of space debris.

While attached to the Station, ATV also functions as an extra module for storage and work. Once it leaves the Station, typically after six months, it carries waste from the facility with it, burning up harmlessly on reentry in Earth’s atmosphere.

The controlled destructive reentry takes place high over an uninhabited area in the South Pacific to ensure there is no risk of damage from debris.

ATV has the largest cargo capacity of all vehicles that resupply the Station. It is the most complex spacecraft ever built in Europe, combining fully automated rendezvous capabilities with advanced features to ensure human safety in orbit and on the ground.

ESA has provided five of these resupply vehicles as part of its role in building and maintaining the Station in cooperation with international partners under a barter agreement to compensate for use of the Station and its facilities.

To help maintain that knowhow once the last ATV has flown, ESA agreed in November 2012 to develop a service module based on ATV for NASA’s Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle. At least two modules will be supplied for Orion, the first in 2017 and the second in 2021.

Airbus is the prime contractor for ATV and Thales Alenia Space Italy supplies the integrated cargo carrier. More than three dozen companies from 10 European countries, Russia and the US participate in the programme, involving around 2000 people in ESA and industry.

Learn more about ATV at:

About the European Space Agency

The European Space Agency (ESA) is Europe’s gateway to space. It is an intergovernmental organisation, created in 1975, with the mission to shape the development of Europe’s space capability and ensure that investment in space delivers benefits to the citizens of Europe and the world.

ESA has 20 Member States: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, of whom 18 are Member States of the EU.

ESA has Cooperation Agreements with eight other Member States of the EU. Canada takes part in some ESA programmes under a Cooperation Agreement.

ESA is also working with the EU on implementing the Galileo and Copernicus programmes.

By coordinating the financial and intellectual resources of its members, ESA can undertake programmes and activities far beyond the scope of any single European country.

ESA develops the launchers, spacecraft and ground facilities needed to keep Europe at the forefront of global space activities.

Today, it launches satellites for Earth observation, navigation, telecommunications and astronomy, sends probes to the far reaches of the Solar System and cooperates in the human exploration of space.

For further information, please contact:

ESA Media Relations Office
Tel: + 33 1 53 69 72 99

SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.