ATV-3 (left) approaches the docking port of the Zvezda Module (right).
On Friday, March 23, the European Space Agency launched the third in their series of Automated Transfer Vehicles (ATV) to resupply the International Space Station. ATV-3 was nicknamed "Edoardo Amaldi" after an Italian scientist. The launch, operated by ArianneSpace, took place at the Agency's Korou, French Guiana space center in Northern South America. The mighty Arianne 5 rocket lifted off for an 8-minute ride to orbit, lifting the 20-ton cargo vessel in a beautiful flight over the Atlantic and past the Azore islands.
ESA launch facilities in French Guiana.
ATV-3 blasts off on an Arianne 5 rocket.
The Edoardo Amaldi is the first of the ATV series of 5 launches to meet the ESA's goal of one flight per year to the ISS. The Agency hopes the remaining two flights in this first resupply program will continue to meet their goal. Soon after reaching orbit, the ATV extended its 4 solar panels and made course corrections to catch up to the orbiting ISS.
ATV-3 is powered by 4 solar panels (2 in the shadows on right). An ISS solar panel, seen edge-on, blocks the front view of the ATV.
ATV-3 finally caught up to the ISS and docked to the aft end of the Russian-built Zvesda Service Module on March 28th. Although the craft itself weighs about 20 tons, its cargo comprised about six and a half tons of propellant, air, water, food, and other supplies needed for operations. It will remain docked to the ISS for 5 months. One of its most important missions will be to use it's own propellant and engines to boost the altitude of the ISS higher above the Earth.