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Europe’s Heaviest Payload Readied for Liftoff (Update)

Credit: ESA

The largest and heaviest payload ever launched by Europe is slated for departure.

A routine inspection, however, has concluded that additional measures are required to ensure the maximum readiness of the third Automated Transfer Vehicle for launch. It has therefore been decided to postpone the launch previously scheduled for March 9th.

A new launch date will be announced as soon as possible.

The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Ariane-5 is set to make its first flight of the year. This large booster will loft Europe’s Automated Transfer Vehicle – or ATV for short.

ATV-3 is ready to provide ESA’s annual service to the International Space Station.

At more than 20 tons, the highly sophisticated spacecraft combines an autonomous free-flying platform, a maneuverable space vehicle and – when docked – a Space Station module.

The cargo ferry, Edoardo Amaldi, is named after the Italian physicist and spaceflight pioneer. It is ready for launch from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. It totes a record amount of freight and propellants. Once docked to the ISS it will stay attached to the orbital outpost until late August.

ATV is the largest supply ship to travel to the ISS since the U.S. Space Shuttle fleet was retired last year. ATV-3 will deliver propellant, oxygen, air and water to the Station.

Once docked, the propellant will be used by ATV’s own thrusters to raise the Station’s orbit periodically to compensate for the natural decay caused by atmospheric drag.

ATV can also be used to move the Station out of the way of potentially dangerous space debris that come too close to the crewed space complex.

Before leaving the Station, Edoardo Amaldi will be filled with waste bags and unwanted hardware by the crew. It will then be deorbited over the southern Pacific Ocean to burn up harmlessly in the atmosphere.

By Leonard David

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