Europe's ATV supply ship “Johannes Kepler” docks safely with Space Station
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.
ATV's own second set of sensors and computers provided an independent check.
Although both ATV and the ISS orbit at 28 000 km/hr, 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 seven minutes later.
In the coming hours, the Station crew will open the hatch and enter ATV's pressurised cargo module to unload some 1760 kg of dry cargo, including food, clothes and equipment. They will also pump 860 kg of propellant and 100 kg of oxygen into Zvezda's tanks. ATV can carry about three times as much payload as Russia's Progress cargo ships. However, most of this load on Johannes Kepler is propellant for its own thrusters for periodic Station reboosts to compensate for atmospheric drag.
If required, ATV will also provide Station attitude control or even move the outpost out of the way of potentially dangerous space debris.