Maiden flight of ESA's ISS-servicing spacecraft will be attempted no earlier than July

Launch of the European Space Agency's Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) is now scheduled for July at the earliest, as key tests are completed and ESA discusses a final launch date with its International Space Station (ISS) partners.

Thermal vacuum tests of the ATV flight spacecraft Jules Verne ended last week at the European Space Research & Technology Centre in the Netherlands. The testing, to validate the ATV's operation in an orbital environment, took three weeks.

"This [vacuum chamber test] demonstrates that our actual spacecraft can withstand the space environment it is going to see. When - if - we pass this test, it is a major milestone, as it shows that we are almost ready," says ESA ATV project manager John Ellwood.

Jules Verne 
© ESA   
Jules Verne was originally due for launch in 2003, but has suffered delays

Previous tests have included simulations of the docking hardware and software tests of data and power transfer between the ATV and ISS using a full engineering model in Moscow and trials of the transfer of gases, fuel and other liquids using an ISS simulator in France and an ATV simulator in Russia. Negotiations for the Ariane 5 launch between ESA and its ISS partners will aim to fit the ATV flight into the 2007 ISS manifest. Jules Verne will be the first of a number of ATVs used to service the station until the end of its certified operational life.

Originally scheduled for 2003, the maiden flight has been steadily pushed back. The ATV was to have been launched in May, but docking software problems caused by late system definition issues have delayed it until 2007 (Flight International, 18-24 October 2005), at a cost of €25 million, ($33 million) for software redesign and testing.

The ATV does not have a manual override for rendezvous and docking, so ESA has had to design a fault-tolerant system with an independent back-up.

Source: Flight International