Monday, October 28, 2013

“Albert Einstein” Completes Mission at International Space Station

ATV-4 undocking. Credit: NASA

The European Space Agency’s fourth Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV-4), also known as the “Albert Einstein,” undocked from the aft port of the International Space Station’s Zvezda service module at 4:55 a.m. EDT Monday. Its departure sets the stage for the relocation of a Soyuz spacecraft currently docked at the station and the arrival of three new crew members. Expedition 37 Flight Engineers Luca Parmitano and Oleg Kotov, who together closed up the hatches to the ATV-4 Friday, monitored the automated departure from a control panel inside Zvezda, ready to take control of the process if needed. Meanwhile Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin photographed the departing space freighter to capture imagery of its docking assembly and a set of sensors at the forward end of the spacecraft. At the time of undocking, the station was orbiting about 260 miles above Kazakhstan.

ATV-4, now filled with trash and unneeded items, fired its thrusters to back a safe distance away from the orbiting complex. An engine firing Saturday will send it into the Earth’s atmosphere for a planned destructive re-entry over an uninhabited area of the southern Pacific Ocean.

The “Albert Einstein,” named in honor of the famed German-born theoretical physicist and icon of modern science, delivered more than 7 tons of food, fuel and supplies to the orbiting complex when it docked automatically on June 15. During its time at the station, the ATV-4 also provided an additional reboost capability for the complex, as flight controllers periodically commanded its engines to fire to adjust the station’s orbit.

The fifth and final ATV, designated the “Georges Lemaître” after the Belgian astronomer who first proposed the theory of the expansion of the universe, is scheduled to launch in mid-2014 for a six-month mission at the station. More than 32 feet long -- about the size of a traditional London double-decker bus – the ATV is the largest and heaviest vehicle in the station’s resupply fleet.

The departure of ATV-4 clears the way for Parmitano, Yurchikhin and Flight Engineer Karen Nyberg to relocate their Soyuz TMA-09M spacecraft from its docking port on the Rassvet module to the newly vacated Zvezda port on Nov. 1.

On Nov. 7, three new station crew members -- NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Koichi Wakata and Soyuz commander Mikhail Tyurin of the Russian Federal Space Agency – will dock their Soyuz TMA-11M spacecraft to Rassvet about six hours after their launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Nine astronauts and cosmonauts will live and work together aboard the station before Yurchikhin, Nyberg and Parmitano make their final farewells on Nov. 10 and board their Soyuz for the return to Earth after more than five months in space. Their departure will mark the end of Expedition 37 and the beginning of Expedition 38 under the command of Kotov.

Credit: NASA

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