A record 6.6 tonnes of cargo were hurtling towards the International Space Station after being blasted into orbit by a European rocket from French Guiana.
The space freighter with food, water, oxygen, science experiments and special treats for the ISS astronauts was launched on an Ariane 5 rocket from Europe’s spaceport in Kourou as planned at 6:52:11 pm local time.
The robot craft dubbed Albert Einstein separated from its launcher an hour after lift-off, somewhere over New Zealand, and entered orbit at an altitude of 260 kilometres.
Just over half an hour later, it deployed four energy-generating solar panels to start its autonomous navigation, guided by starlight, to the space station.
“This is it. Everything is fine, we have the power, we have the antennas, everything we need to go to the ISS,” European Space Agency director general Jean-Jacques Dordain announced at the control centre in Kourou.
The unmanned vessel is set to dock with the ISS on June 15 at an altitude of about 400 kilometres above the planet – at a speed of some 28,000 kilometres per hour.
At nearly 20.2 tonnes, ESA’s fourth and penultimate cargo delivery to the ISS is the heaviest spacecraft ever lifted by an Ariane rocket.
It also marked the 55th consecutive successful launch by an Ariane 5, according to the Astrium space company which builds the lifeline craft.
The robot space freighter is the size of a double-decker bus – 10 metres long and 4.5 metres in diameter.
It boasts the largest assortment of goods yet brought to the ISS by an Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) – a total of 1,400 individual items that include clothes, tools and enough food for several months.
And its dry cargo is the heaviest ever – nearly 2.5 tonnes packed into 209 bags fixed to the vessel’s internal shelves.
The vessel is loaded with about 4.8 tonnes of fuel needed to dock with the ISS and perform its additional role as space tug – boosting the orbiter to a higher altitude with onboard engines.
The ISS is in a low-Earth orbit and encounters atmospheric resistance which causes it to fall towards our planet at a rate of about 100 m (300 feet) per day.
The ATV can also push the ISS out of the way of oncoming space debris.
The Albert Einstein carries 860 kg (1,760 pounds) of propellant to be pumped into the ISS itself, more than 500 kilos (1,100 pounds) of water and 100 kilos of oxygen and air.
Source : http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/news/science/esa-launches-record-cargo-for-international-space-station/article4786926.ece