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The European Space Agency (ESA) is set to launch its third automated transfer vehicle (ATV-3) cargo ferry, Edoardo Amaldi, aboard an Ariane 5 launch system, to the International Space Station on 9 March 2012 from Kourou spaceport in French Guiana.

ATV-3 follows the two successful supply missions carried out by ATV Jules Verne in March 2008 and ATV Johannes Kepler in February 2011.

Weighing more than 20t and about 10m long, the ATV incorporates a 45m³ pressurised module and a Russian docking system similar to the Soyuz manned spacecraft and the Progress supply spaceships.

The spacecraft will be equipped with high-precision navigation systems, highly redundant flight software and a fully independent and autonomous collision-avoidance system with its own power supplies, control and dedicated thrusters.

After launch, ATV-3 will automatically navigate to a precision docking with the Station’s Russian Zvezda module and will deliver 4,395kg of propellant, oxygen, air and water to the Station.

Once docked, ATV’s own thrusters will use propellants to elevate the Station’s orbit periodically to compensate for the natural decay due to an atmospheric drag.

The ATV can also be deployed to move the Station away from the potentially dangerous space debris which nears the manned space complex.

ESA claims that ATV-3 is the first in the series to have been processed and launched within the target rate of one per year, marking the start of ATV as an annual production-line supply vehicle for the Space Station.

ESA is also planning to launch the next ATVs, Albert Einstein and Georges Lemaître, in 2013 and 2014 respectively.

Astrium is the industrial prime contractor for the ATV programme.


Image: ATV-3 will deliver 4,395 kg of propellant, oxygen, air and water to the International Space Station. Photo: ESA