‘Einstein’ takes out the trash, bids farewell to space station

TV image of the Albert Einstein cargo ship, also called ATV-4, in the process of docking with the International Space Station (ISS) on June 15, 2013. Credit: NASA/ESA

Time for Einstein to merge with the space-time continuum. The European space cargo ship dubbed Albert Einstein will undock from the International Space Station tomorrow morning (Oct. 28) at 3:59 a.m. CDT and drop back to Earth, burning up in the atmosphere over an uninhabited part of the Pacific Ocean on November 2.

An earlier cargo ship, the ATV-3 (Automated Transfer Vehicle-3), approaches the space station for docking in March 2012. Photo taken while the two craft orbited Earth’s nightside. Click to enlarge. Credit: NASA

The Mac truck-sized ship was launched on June 5 and docked with the station 10 days later carrying fuel, water, oxygen, food, science experiments and special treats like aubergine parmigiana and mushroom and pesto risotto selected by Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano to share with his crewmates.

Cargo ship ATV-3 fires its thrusters to boost the ISS into a higher orbit last fall. Cargo ships like Einstein provide critical boosts to the station to keep it orbiting at the right altitude. Credit: NASA

In addition to serving as cargo carrier, one of Einstein’s key functions was to boost itself and the ISS to a higher orbit using its thrusters and 2580kg of propellant. Even though the space station orbits some 250 miles above Earth’s surface, it experiences resistance from the wisps of atmosphere still present at these heady heights. Without a periodic boost from cargo ships or the station’s engines, the drag on the ship would eventually lower its orbit and send it burning up in the atmosphere.

Einstein won’t be going back empty. He’ll haul out the trash on his way home, returning in a fiery demise over the Pacific packed with six tons of garbage and human waste.

For U.S. locations, the ISS continues making passes through the first half of the new week. Times for the Duluth, Minn. region are listed below. I’m hoping that one of the satellite sites will also publish predictions for Einstein’s final passes. If they become available, I’ll post them here so some of you lucky observers can spot the ship before it’s incinerated.

Screen shot from the ISS Detector app for Android. Credit: RunaR

To find times for evening ISS passes for your city, click over to Heavens Above or Spaceweather’s Satellite Flybys page. There are also some great phone apps available to alert you to space station fly-overs. Check out ISS Detector for Android (free) and ISS FlyOver for iPhone ($0.99).

ISS viewing times for Duluth, Minn. region:

* Tonight Oct. 27 starting at 6:47 p.m. First appears in the northwestern sky and travels across the southern sky while moving to the east. Brilliant, fine pass! Max. altitude of 51 degrees. A balled fist held at arm’s length covers 10 degrees of sky.

* Monday Oct. 28 at 7:37 p.m. Low pass in the southwest-south. Max. altitude 14 degrees.

* Tuesday Oct. 29 at 6:48 p.m. Slightly higher pass across the southwest-south. Max. altitude 22 degrees.

8 thoughts on “‘Einstein’ takes out the trash, bids farewell to space station

  1. Having the “trash” taken out twice in one week has no doubts something to do with the increase of permanent female occupants on board the ISS. It won’t be long before we see an under used module being converted to a man cave with fast food pantries, Russian vodka and Canadian remotes. :)

  2. i hope they will publish some info as well – i wanted to also recommend to readers the calsky website as a great resource for any amateur astronomers out there – very comprehensive info! i WAS disappointed last week when neither they nor heavensabove had sighting info for CYGNUS after it undocked – they provide so much more info than the nasa iss sightings website, which at least had some info. also, since i’m sure every1 is wondering, Antares is still visible for mid-N latitudes a little less than 1 hour past sunset provided a clear sky and low enough view. spotted it tonite. doubt this will be the case in a week.

    • Edward,
      Assuming it holds together it almost has to given how how close it will come to the sun. Matter of fact, since it’s brightened by 6 magnitudes since discovery, another six would put it at mag. 3.5. Brightness at perihelion should be around -3 (or better). That’s an additional 6 magnitudes brighter yet.

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