Europe’s supply spacecraft ATV – making of

ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicles (ATV) served the International Space Station with five launches over six years following its 2008 debut.

ATVs delivered more than 31 500 kg of supplies over the course of their five missions. They boosted the Station to raise its orbit numerous times and similarly moved it out of the way of space debris.

The vehicles demonstrated European mastering of automated docking, a technology that is vital for further space exploration.

ATV was conceived in 1987, when ideas for an international space station to succeed Russia’s Mir complex were beginning to surface. In 1994, ESA and Russia discussed the possibility of using the vehicle for a new station. The decision to build it was taken in October 1995 and development began the following year.

The ATV programme was part of a barter arrangement between ESA and its international partners through which ESA pays its share of the running costs of the International Space Station by supplying vital equipment and systems.

The knowledge gained by ESA and European industry from designing, building and operating the complex ATV missions has been instrumental for ESA’s participation in NASA’s Orion spacecraft that will fly astronauts to the Moon and beyond.

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