Europe’s line of space freighters is going out with a (big) bang.
Christened the “Georges Lemaître” after the Belgian priest and astronomer who proposed what became the Big Bang theory of the universe’s origin, the final European Space Agency (ESA) Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) lifted offTuesday (July 29) and immediately became the heaviest vehicle launched by Europe’s venerable Ariane 5 rocket.
The 13-ton spacecraft, now on its way to the International Space Station, rose from the ELA-3 pad at the European-run spaceport in Korou, French Guiana at 7:47 p.m. EDT (2347 GMT; 8:47 p.m. local time). The Georges Lemaître will deliver more than seven tons of science experiments, food, supplies and fuel to the space station when it arrives on Aug. 12. [Europe’s ATV-5 Space Cargo Ship Mission in Pictures]
There, German astronaut Alexander Gerst will become the last European to open the hatch to a European spacecraft docked to the orbiting outpost. The ATV is being retired in favor of ESA applying its past two decades of design and flight experience to develop a service module for NASA’s next-generation crewed space capsule, the Orion.
“In a way it is sad to see that this is already the last one,” Gerst said in a preflight interview.“But, on the other hand, the technologies that we used for ATV are being used for future vehicles.”
The 34-foot-long (10.3 meter) ATV, with its four “X-wing”-arranged solar panels will perform an automated approach to the station’s Russian Zvezda service module, where it will remain attached for the next six months.
The Georges Lemaître, ATV-5, caps the fleet by honoring a man who advanced our understanding of the beginning of the universe, devising the basis for the Big Bang theory as it is known today.
Videos of the launch first and more on Msgr. Lemaître after: