Tests will begin next month of a strengthened Ariane 5 upper stage vehicle equipment bay that will carry the European Space Agency's (ESA) first 19,600kg (43,000lb) automated transfer vehicle (ATV).

The strengthened bay is needed because the ATV is the heaviest payload the Ariane 5 has ever carried. Its maiden flight to a 260km (160 miles) -high 51.6°-inclined equatorial orbit is expected after February 2006 and it will be the first of nine ATVs ordered to supply the International Space Station.

Two bays have been built: one is being tested to destruction and the second, which will carry the first ATV, is having its avionics integrated. From the third quarter, the stage will have its Aestus restartable engine and fuel tanks added. The Aestus engine is to undergo restart tests until September.

"The fuel tanks will have anti-fuel-sloshing baffles fitted because of the effect of the ballistic flight phases after the first and second [engine firings]," says Robert Laine, head of ESA's Ariane department.

Source: Flight International