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Space Science

Europe's Automated Cargo Shuttle Docks With Space Station 108

An anonymous reader writes "A successful docking of the Automated Transfer Vehicle dubbed 'Jules Verne' occurred earlier this week. The first of its kind, the crewless ship reached orbit and lightly touched up against the international space station on Thursday. By now astronauts on the ISS will have opened its doors and begun air circulation in preparation of offloading the nearly 7.5 tons of fuel, oxygen, food, clothing and equipment they need to survive. The EU Space Agency sees this as a historic journey for the program: 'The Jules Verne, named after the visionary French science fiction author, is the first of a new class of station supply ships called Automatic Transfer Vehicles. The craft was built by the nations of the European Space Agency as one of Europe's major contributions to the international station. "The docking of the A.T.V. is a new and spectacular step in the demonstration of European capabilities on the international scene of space exploration," said Jean-Jacques Dordain, director general of the European Space Agency.'"
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Europe's Automated Cargo Shuttle Docks With Space Station

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  • by Scrameustache ( 459504 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @12:23AM (#22977510) Homepage Journal
    Which would win in a fight? The European robot transport or the Canadian robot manipulator?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by AikonMGB ( 1013995 )

      The Canadian robot manipulators! We've got tons of them! The arms on the space shuttles, the twin-armed contraption on the space station, numerous smaller manipulators on many rovers...

      It's too bad any new ones won't be Canadian anymore with MDA selling out =( Not that MDA Space Missions / MD Robotics / Dynacs / SPAR were "all Canadian" to start with, but at least it had that "built here!" feeling to it.


      • Get the Canadian robot manipulators to build Canadian robot manipulators and you might take on the universe!
        • by neomunk ( 913773 )
          Heh, actually the plan would be complete by having Canadian Robot Overlords both being welcomed by slashdotters and overseeing the Canadian Robot Manipulator hoards' reproduction/taking over the universe/???/profit functions.

          See, it's like a car, you have to have an ECM (in this case, the Canadian Robot Overlords) to coordinate the rest of the complex machinery. But that kind of thing is only likely in Soviet Russia, where Canadians make fun of YOU.

          It's not a first post, and there's no goatse, but nonethel
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by TubeSteak ( 669689 )

      Which would win in a fight? The European robot transport or the Canadian robot manipulator?
      I would have thought the more relevant question would be:
      One-use European robot transport vs Russian Soyuz spacecraft

      IIRC, so far the Russians have been lifting the majority of supplies to the station, because the Shuttle hasn't been going up regularly. Not to mention they've been getting paid but the USA for the privilege.
      • by 2Y9D57 ( 988210 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @06:54AM (#22978728)
        The Russians have been delivering supplies with the Progress spacecraft. Only people travel in Soyuz.
        • by Eunuchswear ( 210685 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @01:35PM (#22980960) Journal
          Progress is more or less Soyuz without a re-entry system. Those russkies believe in reusable systems - reusability of the design rather than idiotic reusability of the vehicle.

          details []
          • by mcvos ( 645701 )
            I was a bit disappointed to read that Jules Verne would burn up in the atmosphere, since a proper replacement for the space shuttle is really long overdue, but I understand that the lack of a re-entry system makes the whole thing orders of magnitude cheaper and safer, and only people really need to return safely.

            Spending money to get garbage safely down to earth is silly. We've got plenty of garbage down here already.
        • by ZoCool ( 957444 )
          This vehicle is using the Russian auto dock adaptor and complete electronics package as I understand it, under licence.

 & Anatoly Zac's stunning graphics for details>

          But nary a whisper of that from the PR jerks, or the pollies.

          All the frission from NASA (Remember the 30M+$ space biro?)

          Rusckies just use pencils, and build stuff that works . . .

          . . . and works . . .

          . . . and. . .

          Ah. You know.

          (Mind you, it sure shifts a truck load at a time!)
      • by ianare ( 1132971 )

        One-use European robot transport vs Russian Soyuz spacecraft

        The russians send cargo in progress [], which is a one-time use spacecarft as well.
        Regarding comparing the two, the same article states:

        It [the ATV] is able to carry up to 9 tonnes of cargo into space, roughly three times as much as the Progress, and will be launched every 12-18 months by an Ariane 5 rocket.

  • by Iamthecheese ( 1264298 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @12:28AM (#22977530)
    The science is done; between this and automatic capture and exploitation of asteroids is only a matter of scale and engineering.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by QuantumG ( 50515 ) *

      between this and automatic capture and exploitation of asteroids is only a matter of scale and engineering.
      .. and will.

      Remember, NASA and the vast majority of the space community are still stuck in the von Braun vision: station, shuttle, Moon, Mars.

      • by M1FCJ ( 586251 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @02:59AM (#22978092) Homepage
        If only...

        If NASA followed von Braun's strategy, by now we would have a permanent moon base already. Instead NASA went for a big-bang project, after initial success, scaled it down very quickly and abandoned everything for a flawed plan and left us with a shuttle which would truck stuff to nowhere. Now they have a place to go (ISS) but they are canceling the shuttle with no spacecraft to replace it. I wouldn't be this bitter at least they had something replacing it.

        Europeans (inc. Russia) will have to step up and replace NASA when they completely abandon ISS in a couple of years and ATV is a step in this. The Chinese and Indians might come aboard pretty soon as well. The world will not need USA for space exploration any more and NASA's current plans are doomed with the budget cuts and everything - all it needs is a pretty failure in one of the first flights and that's it, USA won't have access to human spaceflight anymore - they hardly succeed with their current fleet of vehicles.
        • by QuantumG ( 50515 ) *
          vision != reality.

          Even if NASA wasn't a bureaucratic mess and got the funding it needed, all we'd have is "science" on Mars.

          Does it really make sense to drag yourself out of a gravity well only to throw yourself into another?

          • by turgid ( 580780 )

            Does it really make sense to drag yourself out of a gravity well only to throw yourself into another?

            Sometimes I think it doesn't make sense to drag myself out of bed in the morning only to fall back into it at night.

            However, we are human beings, and, as the saying goes, we are all lying in the gutter, but some of us are looking up at the stars.

        • by Dun Malg ( 230075 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @04:38PM (#22982210) Homepage

          ...left us with a shuttle which would truck stuff to nowhere. Now they have a place to go (ISS) but they are canceling the shuttle with no spacecraft to replace it.
          The trouble with the STS is that its big selling point was as a shuttle to a future International Space Station. By the same token, the ISS' big selling point was that it could be built, manned, and supplied with the STS. They're both lackluster designs limited to a ridiculous LEO slot that's outlandishly costly to maintain. Really, they're BOTH white elephants.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by prefec2 ( 875483 )
          The ESA has a low budget compared to the NASA. The major difference is that they do things slowly and step by step. They do one big project (like the ATV development), but a lot of research and engineering is done in smaller missions. And they try to use platforms. For example the Venus Express probe reused the design of Mars Express. They also have a lot "get things cheaper" projects. And they cancelled many expensive projects, which was seen as a set back for Europe at that time. For example the Hermes pr
        • If NASA followed von Braun's strategy, by now we would have a permanent moon base already. Instead NASA went for a big-bang project

          Um, no. NASA was ordered to do the big bang project by the Kennedy and subsequent Administrations. NASA originally planned to go to the moon possibly sometime in the 70's, maybe.

          after initial success, scaled it down very quickly

          Um, no. Of the landing sequence NASA planned (through Apollo 20), two flights (what would have been 15 and 19) were cut in 1967 and

        • Now they have a place to go (ISS) but they are canceling the shuttle with no spacecraft to replace it. I wouldn't be this bitter at least they had something replacing it.

          Um... take a look at the Orion spacecraft. This will be the replacement for the shuttle program. The shuttle program was started to help build and travel to the ISS. Now with the ISS out of the way NASA will realign for missions to the moon and mars, including plans for this moon base you seem to want. In fact test are underway in
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by interiot ( 50685 )

      Asteroids come with retroreflectors preinstalled []? Asteroids provide such a predictable environment that the exact same approach can be rehearsed countless times in a lab beforehand?

      IMHO, the DARPA Urban Grand Challenge moved the science closer to unpredictable real-world mining than this. (though admittedly, both relied heavily on laser rangefinders)

      • I guess you could have a probe which launched a retroreflector first at the asteriod. Then once this had impacted, the rest of the vehicle could lock on to this to do a more controlled approach.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by DerekLyons ( 302214 )
      Yeah. Never mind the fact that asteroids are typically tumbling, don't come equipped with docking system, and don't provide a nice homing beacon and control assistance.
  • I'd have enjoyed (hopefully) watching that on video. Maybe I'm a big kid? I don't know, I just really like watching that sort of stuff. Anyone find video of it?
  • Was not Soviet Progress [] a first crewless freighter ?
    • I for one, welcome our automatic space delivery overlords.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Brett Buck ( 811747 )
      The Progress isn't even the first automated Soviet freighter, so, no, this is far from the first automated transport spacecraft. They even used some Russian parts. Typical ESA over-statement (or outright lie). Just the latest in a long line - "first ion thruster" (although theirs was a Russian design that had been in use for 20+years) and NASA and some commercial entities has also used them), "first 3-axis stabilized spacecraft to be operated without any gyro" (although numerous US missions have used gyrol
      • by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @01:47AM (#22977874)
        RTA: "Only Russia has previously achieved a successful automated docking in space," Dr. Griffin said in a statement.
      • Why no gyros? (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Plazmid ( 1132467 )
        Why no gyro? Gyros don't need any fuel for attitude control, just solar power. What advantage does not having gyros give you?
        • by Ruie ( 30480 )
          Gyros need to be heavy - eliminating them saves mass.
          • by FlyByPC ( 841016 )
            Directional-control gyros do -- but not nav gyros. There are small versions weighing well under 1kg, for use in model helicopters etc.
          • Ah, yes, I forgot, you need MASS to react against. Which makes sense for a cargo ship.
          • if you do not use gyros, then you have to use the thrusters. That means fuel. Worse, it WILL limit the lifetime. Of course, for ATV, it is probably not needed (limited lifetime in the firstplace, gyros on the space station), but overall, it would seem that directional gyros would more sense for a long lasting sats (or perhaps ion drive thrusters).
            • by Ruie ( 30480 )
              You could also use electromagnets and push against Earth magnetic field - though, in practice, you might have problems doing it as poorly controlled magnetic field might focus incoming charged particles in the wrong place..

              There are still patents on it though..
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        ..... Their terminal guidance and overall control appeared to have been *far* superior to the typical Soviet system. Much smoother and neater and apparently much finer control.
        Perhaps this is what they were talking about -- As I remember it, the final approach of Progress was far from automated. If this new system is mostly or fully automated, then it does qualify for a first...
      • by dddno ( 743682 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @04:14AM (#22978338)

        Kindly separate what some inaccurate media summary says and what the ESA itself states. Where exactly does ESA claim to have "the first automated transport spacecraft?". They say it is the first of its kind, i.e. one that navigates and docks fully automatically, which is neither a lie nor an overstatement. And quoting from the Smart-1 (probe with ion drive) site:

        This was only the second time that ion propulsion has been used as a mission's primary propulsion system ...

        I haven't bothered checking your "first 3-axis stabilized spacecraft to be operated without any gyro" example but frankly I'm sure I'd not find an "outright lie" here or even a overstatement either.

      • by ivano ( 584883 )
        Don't you have a "save the british pound" rally or something to go to?
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Typical ESA over-statement (or outright lie).

        Depends on how you interpret the meaning of the word "first of its kind". It is definitely not the first automated space craft, you are right. But this is probably not what was meant. In fact, the words "first of its kind do not even appear in the NY Times article, it is the words of the "anonymous reader" who submitted this to Slashdot.

        The New York Times article states:
        "[It] is the first of a new class of station supply ships called Automatic Transfer Vehicles"

        And it definitely is a new class of suplly sh

    • Progress IS the first of its ind. The ATV is roughly a large AND newer copy of it. Of course, that is because EU paid russia for the rights to see their tech and then figure out how to improve upon it based on 30+years of tech advancement.

      I am happy to see EU getting more into space; ariane, vegas, a number of planetary probes, the modules used on the shuttle (of which that forms the ATV), and now the ATV. But USSR/Russia is the one that deserves the credit for first creating this. In fact, I am hoping t
  • That's already in use! Why not UTV = Unmanned Transfer Vehicle?
  • Why not add sections on as they are put into orbit instead of discarding them to burn up? Enlarging the International Space Station would be better, right?
    • by Anonymous Coward
      With so much energy invested in boosting the transport into orbit, you'd think that they'd want to hold onto the materials once up there. They'd be very valuable in due course.

      Unfortunately the ISS is in too low an orbit for that, ie. a scrap yard at that low altitude would reenter pretty soon. The space station itself needs to be reboosted up periodically (a really daft design decision).

      There's no reason why the transport couldn't boost itself much further out once it has delivered its cargo though. The
      • by demallien2 ( 991621 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @02:00AM (#22977906)
        They actually use the transport to remove all of their rubbish. They can't just throw waste outside, that would present yet another orbital risk. So, they load everything into the supply module (Progress, ATV, or the new Japanese HTV which should get it's first launch next year), and then the supply module burns its engines to re-enter Earth's atmosphere and burning up.
        • by putaro ( 235078 )
          Yah, that's damn expensive trash bag.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by sveinb ( 305718 )
      According to Wikipedia, it is designed with room for a docking port at the other end.
    • because its not that easy to engineer something that doubles for a transport vehicle AND component of a space station. Although that would be cool.
  • by SmokeSerpent ( 106200 ) <> on Sunday April 06, 2008 @12:46AM (#22977632) Homepage
    I guess they were pretty freakin confident that this thing wouldn't blow up or get lost. Ballsy much?
  • 7.5 Tons (Score:3, Funny)

    by cwraig ( 861625 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @01:03AM (#22977698) Homepage
    They must be some strong astronauts to carry all that in zero gravity
    • You gotta be careful tho - cause even though the objects may be weightless, they still have the same inertia (ie. you can be crushed by a weightless object, if it's moving).
  • Thursday ? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dbcad7 ( 771464 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @01:22AM (#22977768)
    I gotta wonder.. If the US had done this, would we be reading about this on Thursday or Saturday ?
    • Re:Thursday ? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @08:34AM (#22979106) Journal
      Keep in mind that it is up to the /. editors to pick what interests THEM. As such, there is a bit of a built-in bias about what appears here. 10 years ago, on slashdot, this would have been posted right away. But I have noticed that a number of space articles tend to be posted later and later. I suspect that this has little to do with EU, and a lot more to do with less interest in space by younger folks. Hopefully, with spacex, bigelow, and even virgin, we will see this passion about space rekindled again.

      If not, it will probably be re-kindled in about 6-7 years, when china puts a man on the moon, with the obvious intention of building a base there. Just as sputnik spurred America, I think that the realization that China has about 1.5 times the number of ppl working on their space program of what America had in total during the Apollo program will cause nations to re-think their priorities, and how to work together.
  • Maybe we don't need people making dangerous supply runs in the Space Shuttle.
  • by Davemania ( 580154 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @03:49AM (#22978288) Journal
    With the Russian accident in mind, why do they still dock the same way ? From what i've read, a collision could, due to the size of the capsule could be catastrophic. Couldn't they make the capsule approach the space station in a parrallel course rather than heads on, than use the robotic arms or something equivalent to pull the capsule in ? of couse that would mean that they would have to redesign the capsule.
    • All of the future crafts with hook-ups on the American side will do just that. But that requires that the craft contain an arm. So that means that other dockable crafts will have to carry an arm. For example, if Bigelow choses to use the American approach, they will require an arm of some length (perhaps just long enough to reach the end of one BA-330). While it makes sense to use it on the ISS (cheap and all parts there already), it really does not make sense for other systems. Too expensive, though you c
    • by john.r.strohm ( 586791 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @10:32AM (#22979672)
      There is no such thing as a "parallel course" in orbit.

      Read Bate, Mueller, & White, "Fundamentals of Astrodynamics", (Dover Books). (Caution: Math required.)

      Imagine two coplanar circular rings, of very slightly different diameter, with a common center. They're concentric. Tilt one slightly with respect to the other, retaining the common centering. The rings now cross at two diametrically opposed points.

      Those rings represent non-coplanar orbits. Objects traveling along the two orbits appear to be in parallel course at widest separation, then they start coming together, collide, and start moving apart again.

      The cheap way to do rendezvous is get the two spacecraft onto the SAME orbit, with some separation, and then GRADUALLY maneuver one of them to bring it closer. It is extremely touchy work. (This is why Project Gemini spent so much time learning how to rendezvous the Gemini spacecraft with the Agena target: they had to be able to do rendezvous to do the Apollo moon landings.)

      Read "Carrying the Fire", by Mike Collins, for some interesting insight into the problem. (Mike Collins was Apollo XI Command Module Pilot.)
      • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Don't be such a pedant. There's absolutely no reason why you can't fly a vehicle like the ATV on a near-miss course, and then do precisely what the grandparent suggested. As to why they do it one way or another, who knows, I'm not a rocket scientist, but neither are you.

        I'm sure the real ones have their reasons, probably having to do with the complexity of catching a passing cargo spaceship with the manipulator arm, or the mechanical stresses involved, or what-not. The two craft approach each other prett
        • by mcvos ( 645701 )

          Don't be such a pedant. There's absolutely no reason why you can't fly a vehicle like the ATV on a near-miss course, and then do precisely what the grandparent suggested.

          Maybe they could, but it sounds incredibly dangerous. Near misses and different orbits imply a speed difference. To remove that speed difference, force needs to be applied. tons of things can go wrong. It's much safer to put both objects in the same orbit and approach gently.

    • In the realm of orbital maneuvre, it doesn't really matter where you approach it from. They're both travelling at almost exactly the same speed. It's best to just consider them as two floating objects in the vastness of space. The approach velocity is extremely small either way. Capturing the capsule with a robotic arm might reduce the risk of catastrophic collision, which is probably quite small anyway. But that would probably open up a whole new bag of potential failure.
  • by 3seas ( 184403 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @08:44AM (#22979156) Homepage Journal
    ...toilet. Beware of the brown rain.

    Seems to me they could use human waste propulsion to offset atmospheric drag, so long as its directed at the earth.
    put the waste under pressure and release it in a directed manner.

    Ok, so that's a shitty idea.

Things equal to nothing else are equal to each other.