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Europe’s ATV supply ship docks safely with Space Station

Copyright ESA

Eight days after launch, ESA’s latest Automated Transfer Vehicle, Johannes Kepler, completed a flawless rendezvous and docking with the International Space Station at 17:08 CET (16:08 GMT) to deliver essential supplies.

The approach and docking were achieved autonomously by its own computers, closely monitored by ESA and French space agency (CNES) teams at the ATV Control Centre in Toulouse, France, as well as the astronauts on the Station.

Although both ATV and the ISS orbit at 28 000 km/h, the relative speed during final approach remained below 7 cm/s and the accuracy within a few centimetres.

Johannes Kepler closed in on the ISS from behind in order to dock with Russia’s Zvezda module.

At close range, the 20-tonne unmanned spaceship computed its position through sensors pointed at laser reflectors on the Station to determine its distance and orientation relative to its target.

ATV’s docking probe was captured by the docking cone inside Zvezda’s aft end at 16:59 CET (15:59 GMT). The closure of hooks completed the docking sequence some nine minutes later.

“With this smooth docking, Johannes Kepler proves to be a great example of the wave of innovation ‘made in Europe’. We are more ready than [...]

ATV Johannes Kepler gears up for space journey

Copyright ESA

ATV-2 is almost ready for launch on 15 February from Europe’s Spaceport. It will be the heaviest load ever lofted into space by the Ariane 5 rocket, making the 200th flight of the European launcher even more spectacular.

ESA’s latest Automated Transfer Vehicle space ferry, named after the German astronomer and mathematician Johannes Kepler, is now fully fuelled, its oxygen tanks are filled and most of the cargo from ESA and NASA is placed inside.

Only last-minute cargo of up to 400 kg will be added two weeks before launch using a special access device.

While the first ATV in 2008 performed a series of demonstrations on its way to the International Space Station (ISS), Johannes Kepler will head directly to its destination.

The planned journey includes some extra days to allow for possible delays, but the docking has to take place on 26 February to meet the busy ISS schedule.

ATV will navigate, fly and dock to the Station automatically, but it will be monitored and commanded from the ATV Control Centre (ATV-CC) in Toulouse, France. Despite its mass of about 20 tonnes, the ferry can manoeuvre itself to within a few centimetres.

During the [...]

Kepler Mission Discovers Two Planets Transiting the Same Star

Copyright NASA

NASA’s Kepler spacecraft has discovered the first confirmed planetary system with more than one planet crossing in front of, or transiting, the same star.

The transit signatures of two distinct planets were seen in the data for the sun-like star designated Kepler-9. The planets were named Kepler-9b and 9c. The discovery incorporates seven months of observations of more than 156,000 stars as part of an ongoing search for Earth-sized planets outside our solar system. The findings will be published in Thursday’s issue of the journal Science.

Kepler’s ultra-precise camera measures tiny decreases in the stars’ brightness that occur when a planet transits them. The size of the planet can be derived from these temporary dips.

The distance of the planet from the star can be calculated by measuring the time between successive dips as the planet orbits the star. Small variations in the regularity of these dips can be used to determine the masses of planets and detect other non-transiting planets in the system.

In June, mission scientists submitted findings for peer review that identified more than 700 planet candidates in the first 43 days of Kepler data. The data included five additional candidate systems that appear [...]

Second ATV named after Johannes Kepler

second-atv-named-after-johannes-kepler

Copyright ESA

ESA’s second Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) has been named Johannes Kepler after the German astronomer and mathematician. Europe’s next unmanned logistics spacecraft is scheduled for launch to the International Space Station in mid-2010.

Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) was a German astronomer and mathematician who is best known for discovering the laws of planetary motion. Starting his career as a teacher in Graz, he later moved to Prague where he worked with the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe. Kepler’s work contributed greatly to the scientific and technical progress of Europe and enabled space exploration today.

This year is also the 400th anniversary of the publication of one of Kepler’s most influential works, Astronomia Nova. The choice of this key figure in astronomy is particularly fitting in 2009, the International Year of Astronomy.

“We are proud that Europe’s second ATV will carry the name of Johannes Kepler,” says Simonetta Di Pippo, ESA’s Director of Human Spaceflight. “A world-renowned European scientist, his name reflects how Europe’s role in human spaceflight and exploration is rooted in a long tradition of science and technological progress. The next ATV mission will be the confirmation of Europe’s commitment to and interest in the ISS for the years [...]