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ESA’s ATV-4 Successfully, Safely Docks With International Space Station


Video courtesy of NASA Television

“Albert Einstein,” the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Automated Transfer Vehicle, or “ATV,” has safely docked with the International Space Station (ISS). Docking occurred Saturday at 10:07 a.m. EDT to the rear end of the station’s Zvezda service module. The docking was automated and concluded the spacecraft’s 10-day journey to the orbiting laboratory.

ATV launch from Kourou French Guiana atop Ariane 5 rocket - ESA image posted on AmericaSpace
The Albert Einstein was launched atop an Ariane 5 rocket on June 5. Image Credit: ESA

The ATV-4, dubbed “Albert Einstein” in honor of the famous physicist, launched on May 5 atop the powerful Ariane 5 rocket from Kourou, French Guiana. ATV-4 carried some 5,465 pounds of dry cargo, hardware, and supplies. Also on board was 1,896 pounds of propellant, which will be transferred to Zvezda, as well as 5,688 pounds of propellant, which will be used to modify the space station’s orbit. Of great importance to the Expedition 36 crew are the 1,257 pounds of water and 220 pounds of oxygen and air.

According to a statement released by NASA, the 13-ton ATV is the heaviest spacecraft ever to be sent into the black by ESA.

Four days before the ATV-4 docked to the station, the same port was utilized to send the Russian Progress spacecraft, packed with trash, on its way.

The Progress spacecraft also reviewed some of its handy work on its way out. The Russian-built craft took imagery of the port to look for possible damage that might have occurred when it docked.

NASA image of ATV-4 docking with International Space Station posted on AmericaSpace
The Automated Transfer Vehicle is used by ESA to deliver supplies to the International Space Station. Photo Credit: NASA Television

The Progress 51’s Kurs antenna failed to deploy; it was thought this antenna, which was in the wrong position, might have damaged the docking port, and the event raised concerns that the Albert Einstein ATV-4 would have problems docking to the ISS. This turned out to be inaccurate and the Albert Einstein docked with no issues.

The Progress resupply vessel will spend a couple days orbiting our planet before it conducts a fiery plunge into Earth’s atmosphere Tuesday, where it will burn up above the Pacific Ocean. While on orbit engineers will conduct tests on the cargo vessel.

The crew on board the station will offload the supplies on board Albert Einstein and replace them with trash. If all goes according to plan, the Albert Einstein will undock from the ISS in late October. Like Progress, the ATV is not reusable; it too will end its days in a fiery reentry in Earth’s atmosphere somewhere above the Pacific. In the meantime, the crew on the ISS will use the Albert Einstein’s extra storage space, thus providing them with more habitable volume.  Components of ESA’s ATV will be used to aid the United States’ next human-rated spacecraft, Orion.


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Written by Jason Rhian

Jason Rhian gained Bachelor’s Degrees in journalism and public relations from the University of South Florida and spent countless hours volunteering with NASA and other space groups to gain experience. He has interned with NASA twice. Once at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) press site in 2007 and with NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate (ESMD) in 2009.

Jason has worked with a number of space-related groups and events - including Google Lunar X-PRIZE team Omega Envoy, the 2009 International Space Development Conference and NASA's KSC press site. Jason has covered over 30 launches. His work has been published in Aviation Week & Space Technology, The Spaceport News and online with,,,, Universe Today and other websites.

Whereas some journalists are comfortable repurposing a press release and using imagery provided to them by the public relations arm of that organization – Jason has made a habit of getting behind the pre-approved announcements to cover the events first hand. He covered President Obama’s remarks live from Kennedy Space Center in April 2010. Jason also flew out to Utah to cover the test fire of Alliant Techsystems second test of the company’s Development Motor-2 (DM-2). More recently, he sat in the backseat of history, flying on NASA’s Shuttle Training Aircraft with STS-135 Commander Chris Ferguson as he trained for the last mission of the space shuttle era during the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test (TCDT).

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