Foreground left, ESA ISS programme manager Alan Thirkettle and again on the left, but further away, former French astronaut Michel Tognini, ESA's astronaut centre chief
ESA ISS programme manager Alan Thirkettle said at the 1300h ESA briefing here at the Kennedy Space Center media center that the launch of the European Space Agency's Automated Transfer Vehicle, its unmanned freighter for delivering cargo to the International Space Station, named Jules Verne, has a target launch date of the 7 to 8 March - but Arianespace confirmed to me that the date is 8 March and the time is 0125h French Guiana local time. That is 0525h central European time
The launch window for this first of five ATV had been 22 February to 9 March, while an earlier target date had been mid-February we were told - so they have slipped it right to the end.
The reason Thirkettle gave is that while the ATV was fuelled and ready to be integrated in to the Ariane 5 Evolution Storable (ES) version that wil orbit it, and the booster itself would be ready for final assembly in the next 7-10 days, the agency, and its ISS partners, had basically agreed to give themselves more time, describing it as a "matter of prudence"
Asked if ATV was insured Thirkettle said it wasn't. While the rocket was, apparently to the tune of €150 million, he said ESA had opted for a lot of testing to ensure nothing went wrong
That's confidence for you
What he did say about any possible failure, that sheds light on the plan b, if such a thing exists or ESA managers dare even to think that such a thing exists, is that there would be a three year hiatus and that means that ESA would probably not be providing cargo to ISS, if its operational life ends in 2016. Without ATV and Shuttle one wonders, what effective life can ISS can possibly have?
On a happier note Thirkettle confidently explained that for an ISS that operated beyond 2016 they would need two ATVs a year. So assuming a 2020 end-of-life date for ISS, European industry could expect a new contract for up to nine more vehicles, in addition to the six ATV contract that already exists
As it is ESA has to renegotiate its contract with Arianespace for ATV launches as it originally contracted the European launch provider for a lot more - probably when the plan was to send nine ATVs to station
I've been wondering what they will call ATV-2 and asking Thirkettle this he said to me that they would think about that once ATV-1 was launched. Well if 19th century science fiction authors are popular perhaps I can suggest one Herbert George Wells?