This Saturday marks the launch of the biggest vessel in European space history – the Automated Transport Vehicle (ATV), Jules Verne. Named for the classic SF writer, the 21-ton spacecraft is the first unmanned ship launched by Europe to transport goods through space. Russia has some unmanned vehicles, the Progress spaceships. The US Space Shuttle and Russian Soyuz craft also visit the International Space Station but Jules Verne is the first new type of craft in 9 years.
“The ATV, as a logistics vehicle, carries almost three times the hardware, fuel, water and oxygen that a Russian Progress carries,” said NASA’s ISS program manager Mike Suffredini. “It is a major contribution to the program.”
The Jules Verne will travel for a week catching up with the International Space Station before docking. The astronauts will remove the fuel and equipment within and send the ATv back to Earth in six months time, filled with waste material. Jules Verne will burn up in the atmosphere although in the future reentry-proof canisters may be included.