The target launch date for the European Space Agency's cargo ship, the 20,500kg (45,100lb) Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) is 22 February, while the first flight of the Samara Space Center Soyuz 2-1a from the agency's French Guiana spaceport could slip from April to June 2009.

To achieve the 22 February launch to the International Space Station the cargo ship is now being fuelled and its launcher is in the integration phase at the Kourou, French Guiana site. The ATV can carry up to 7,670kg of equipment, provisions, food, water and propellant to the ISS. The Evolution Storable ATV variant of the EADS Astrium Ariane 5 rocket that will launch ATV differs from the generic and ECA versions, operated by launch provider Arianespace. The ES ATV has a strengthened upper stage to cope with the cargo ship's mass, the heaviest the rocket has ever carried, and the stage's engine now has a multiple vacuum restart capability. The 22 February launch will also be the booster's maiden flight.

The agency is targeting 22 February as earlier in the month there will be launches of NASA's Space Shuttle Atlantis and a Russian Federal Space Agency Energia Progress cargo vehicle to the ISS. If that date is not possible ESA is still aiming for the latter half of the month, up to and including the 29th.

Following a successful pouring of concrete at the Soyuz complex under construction in French Guiana's Sinnamary municipality at the end of last year, the first ship carrying Russian launch pad hardware will arrive in March. Although the goal has been an April 2009 Soyuz first flight, it is expected to slip by a few weeks into June.

"Working together [with the Russians on site] will be a challenge. I would not be surprised if the launch is a few weeks late," says ESA's head of the launchers directorate Antonio Fabrizi. However even once completed the Sinnamary launch complex cannot launch the latest Soyuz version, the 2-1b. Fabrizi adds that the agency now expects its Vega booster's first flight to occur in early 2009 rather than the end of 2008.