The European Space Agency's (ESA) third Automated Transfer Vehicle cargo ferry has completed the final part of its successful six-month servicing mission to the International Space Station (ISS).
Indeed, the Edoardo Amaldi burned up as planned on Wednesday over an uninhabited area of the southern Pacific ocean as it reentered Earth's atmosphere.
The ESA describes its lineup of Automated Transfer Vehicles (ATVs) as "the most complex" space vehicles ever developed in Europe - which are the largest and most capable resupply ships to dock with the Space Station.
They are also the heaviest spacecraft in the world, weighing more than 20 tons at launch. Their cargo load and propellant transfer capacity is unmatched and they can be used as space tugs to maneuver the entire 400-ton ISS either to higher altitudes or to move it out of the way of space debris.
The Edoardo Amaldi was lofted to orbit on March 23 by an Ariane 5 launcher and docked with the Space Station five days later. During its mission, Edoardo Amaldi delivered nearly 7 tons of propellant, oxygen, air and water, as well as scientific equipment, spare parts, supplies, clothes and food to the astronauts orbiting Earth. The dry cargo consisted of more than a hundred of bags packed into eight racks – two more racks than on previous ATV missions.
So far, ATVs and Russian vehicles Progress and Soyuz are the only vehicles capable of docking with the Station fully autonomously, with built-in redundancy.
While docked, the ATV-3 performed nine reboosts to keep the Space Station in orbit, counteracting the effects of atmospheric drag. Without reboosts by ATV and Russia's Progress vehicles, the Station would eventually fall back to Earth. On 22 August, ATV-3's eighth boost lasted for 40 minutes (nearly half an orbit) and raised the Station to new heights – a record-breaking 405 x 427 km above Earth.
During the six months that ATV-3 spent at the Station, it provided 48 cubic meters of extra space for the astronauts. Before its departure, the crew loaded its pressurized module with waste material.
Its successor, ATV Albert Einstein, is already slated to deliver the next round of supplies to the Station. It arrived by boat at Europe's Spaceport, in Kourou, French Guiana on 19 September and is scheduled for launch in April 2013. ATV Georges Lemaître is currently being assembled and is scheduled to be launched in April 2014.