After four months attached to the International Space Station it’s time for the European Space Agency’s Johannes Kepler Automated Transfer Vehicle is getting ready to depart.
Its cargo has been unloaded, oxygen transferred and fuel used to boost the ISS into the highest orbit it’s ever been in…
This will be the ISS’s new orbiting height for a post shuttle world, since no craft is going to be bringing up large pieces of cargo in the not too distant future. The increase in height means the station will experience less drag caused by the earth’s atmosphere an will require fewer altitude boosts for the remainder of it’s life. This has the knock on effect that any visiting craft can carry more ‘dry supplies’ and less propellant, making them arguably more effective for the crew.
This is the second of this kind of craft the European Space Agency has flown to the space station and forms a major part of their contribution to the project as a whole.
Follow @esa or @esaoperations on twitter for details or check out ESA’s pretty comprehensive ATV blog if you get time. As the ATV burns up in the atmosphere it takes with it 1.3 tonnes worth of rubbish and will look quite like this… (if you have a high-speed, high-resolution camera and a plane handy)
The next ATV is currently being prepared for shipping to French Guiana, ready for liftoff in early March. But the European Space Agency has the small matter of its first Soyuz launch to deal with before then.