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Ariane 5 rocket

Ariane 5 rocket ready for launch

European cargo ship on its way to space station

Ariane 5 rocket launch
A Ariane 5 rocket carrying the European Space Agency’s 5th and last Automated Transfer Vehicle cargo ship roared to life and lifted off from French Guiana Tuesday. Starting a two-week flight to deliver more than seven tons of equipment and supplies to the International Space Station.

The ATV-5 is loaded with 5,941 pounds of dry cargo, including crew supplies, spare parts and research gear, three tanks of oxygen and air totaling 220 pounds, 1,858 pounds of water, 4,669 pounds of propellant that will be used for station maneuvers and 1,896 pounds of fuel that will be pumped aboard for use by the station’s Russian thrusters.

From the Guiana Space Center, the Ariane 5’s hydrogen-fueled Vulcain ignited with a flash at 7:47 p.m. EDT (GMT-4), gaining full power an instant before a pair of large solid-fuel boosters ignited.

The giant rocket quickly climbed from its launch pad on the French Guiana coast, traveling over the Atlantic Ocean into orbit.

The launch went smoothly, with the boosters falling away at two minutes and 24 seconds after launch. 6.5 minutes after that, the first stage fell away and the rocket continued the ascent to space on the power of its single second-stage Aestus engine.

17 minutes after launch, the second stage shut down, putting the Ariane 5 rocket into a “parking orbit”. A second, shorter firing of the engine was started 42 minutes later to gain a circular 162-mile-high orbit, about 100 miles below the space station.

The ATV-5 spacecraft, named after astrophysicist Georges Lemaitre, was then released from the Ariane 5’s second stage about one hour after liftoff to complete the launch portion of the mission. This is the 60th success in a row for the Ariane 5 with the ATV’s solar arrays unfolded and locking in place about a half hour after separation.

“The last of the litter is now in orbit,” said General Jean-Jacques Dordain. “The ATV, Georges Lemaitre, is doing well.”

Over the next few days the rocket will catch up with the space station, flying below the ISS before looping up and over, dropping back directly behind and below the lab. From there, the spacecraft will move in for docking at the aft port of the Zvezda command module around 9:30 a.m. on Aug. 12.

The ATV-5 vehicle is the heaviest payload ever launched by an Ariane 5, and the last the from European Space Agency. Station resupply now will depend on Russia, Japanese HTV cargo ships and the freighters built for NASA by SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corp.

ESA, will be developing a power, propulsion and life support systems for the NASA’s Orion deep space exploration vehicle.

“It’s really a great achievement,” Eric Beranger, director of space programs for ATV-builder Airbus Defence and Space, said. “It’s the best we’ve ever launched. It’s the last, but at the same time it’s a beginning, because it is also preparing for the future Orion missions where we will provide the service module.”

ESA with partner NASA will work on the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle “Orion”. “It will be the first time ever Europe and Airbus are providing a critical system to a U.S. human spaceflight rated capsule,” Beranger said. “We will provide propulsion, energy and life support, which is absolutely key for human spaceflight. It’s both a end and a beginning.”

Thomas Reiter now serves as director of ESA’s human spaceflight program, said his agency’s commitment to Orion demonstrates “that all the effort we have taken to build such a fantastic vehicle to do cargo transfer and automated docking is not lost, but it’s built upon for future activities.”

ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst will be loadmaster aboard the station, responsible for the transfer of dry cargo into the ISS complex and overseeing the ATV’s reloading with trash and no-longer-needed equipment.

In the cargo bound for the station is the European Space Agency’s Electromagnetic Levitator, an 882-pound research machine designed to suspend various metals in weightlessness, heat them to about 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit and then rapidly cool the samples.

“Blacksmiths have been using this technique for centuries, creating steel tools and weapons by heating, hammering and quenching in water,” ESA said on its website. “This process sets the steel’s structure and causes it to be hard and stay sharp.

“Understanding the underlying physics of this simple example is complicated and factors such as gravity and the mould used to hold the metal in place influence the process making it difficult to get to the fundamentals. For scientists, observing liquid metals cooling in weightlessness removes unnecessary complexity to reveal the core processes.”

The experiment will be conducted by Gerst in ESA’s Columbus research module.

Also on the ATV is a pump for the station’s water recycling system and an experimental joystick known as Haptics-1, described by ESA as a “touchy-feely joystick, which will investigate how people feel tactile feedback in space, preparing for remote robotic operations from orbit.”

ATV-5 is expected to remain attached to ISS until Jan. 25. After undocking, it will carry out one final engineering experiment during its plunge back into the atmosphere. The spacecraft is carrying an infrared camera that will document the breakup from inside.

NASA and the Japanese space agency have flown similar instruments, but the break-up camera, or BUC, is a first for ESA.

ESA said, “The infrared camera, bolted to an ATV rack, will burn up with the rest of the spacecraft, but imagery of the final 20 seconds will be passed to the Re-entry SatCom, a spherical capsule protected by a ceramic heat shield.”

After the ATV breaks up, the Re-Entry SatComn will transmit its stored data to an Iridium communications satellite for relay back to engineers. The goal is to learn more about the forces spacecraft are subjected to during atmospheric entry and how various systems respond.

Ariane 5 rocket

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