Space: August 31, 2003

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The European Space Agency is building an automated cargo delivery capsule for the International Space Station (ISS). The Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) is costing over $800 million to design and build. It will be ready for use in early 2004 and will be used once. The ATV will carry nine tons of cargo to the ISS, and stay attached to the ISS for six months in order to collect 6.5 tons of garbage generated by the ISS crew. Then the ATV will depart and burn up on it's re-entry into the earth's atmosphere. The ATV is pressurized, and can act as an emergency refuge for the ISS crew. There is also talk of modifying the ATV for  re-entry to the earth, so that it could be used as a rescue vehicle for the ISS crew. The ATV, which is being built with Russian assistance, is an improvement on the existing Russian Progress Transfer Vehicle, which only carries four tons of supplies up to the ISS. But the Russian vehicle is much cheaper, costing under $100 million. The Japanese are also building a transfer vehicle, but it will not automatically dock, instead it will only get close enough for the ISS mobile arm to grab it and bring it in for docking. This vehicle will also be more expensive than the Russian one. In all nations, the space program is seen mainly as a public works project to provide jobs. With the American space shuttle grounded, these transfer vehicles are the only way to keep the space station supplied.

 


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