The Georges Lemaitre cargo ship successfully launched on a 14-day journey to the International Space Station (ISS) yesterday. Starting tomorrow morning you can watch it chase the space station around the sky for the next two weeks.
The ship is Europe’s fifth and final automated transfer vehicle (ATV-5) for hauling materials to the station. It’s also the heaviest craft ever launched by the European Space Agency and has the biggest cargo space.
The ship will transport 1,257 pounds (570 kg) of water, 220 pounds (100 kg) of gas (air and oxygen), 4,916 pounds (2,230 kg) of propellants to use for ISS reboosts, additional propellant for the Russian portion of the space station, science equipment and food.
After the astronauts unload all the goodies, the ship will be filled with trash and sent back to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere. A special infrared camera inside the craft will take pictures of the burning hull during the fiery reentry and send them to a waiting satellite for re-transmission to Earth.
While the agency will wrap up its supply trips to the ISS, it’s will re-purpose the ATV service module to participate in NASA’s Orion mission, which will ultimately send astronaut crews to the moon, Mars and asteroids.
Because ATV-5 will take its time arriving at the space station, we’ll have lots of chances to see it ‘chasing’ the ISS around the sky. For my region (Duluth, Minn.) for instance, the station glides from west to east across the sky between 4:18 – 4:25 a.m. tomorrow following a nearly identical path.
Five minutes later, Georges Lemaitre’s namesake zips by at 4:30 a.m. Although the ISS and ATV-5 lie at opposite sides of the sky right now, as docking time draws near on August 12, they’ll be neck in neck – a very cool sight!
Good news too for those who don’t like getting up at dawn. Both ships will begin making convenient evening passes starting this Saturday August 2 and continuing through late August.
To find out where and when to look to track both the ISS and ATV-5, go to Heavens-Above, sign in and select the ISS and ATV-5 links under Satellites. You’ll next be shown a table with times, brightness, directions, etc. for a series of dates. Click on the date of your choice to get a map of the sky showing the object’s path. What could be easier?
I like that ESA has named the ATV series after famous scientists and a science fiction writer. It gives the machines a little personality. It started with ‘Jules Verne’ (ATV-1), then Johannes Kepler (ATV-2), Edoardo Amaldi (ATV-3), Albert Einstein (ATV-4) and finally Georges Lemaitre (ATV-5).
Lemaitre originated the whole idea of the Big Bang. He argued that if the galaxies were receding into the distance in an expanding universe, they must once have been scrunched together in one unimaginably tiny space he called the ‘primeval atom’ or ‘cosmic egg’.