Early this morning the European Space Agency(ESA) launched their 3rd Automated Transfer Vehicle(ATV-3) from a pad in Kourou, French Guiana. The ATV-3 is nicknamed "Edoardo Amaldi" after the famed Italian physicist and spaceflight pioneer who is credited with helping to create the European Space Agency.
The European ATVs, which are considered the most complex spacecraft ever built in europe, are part of an international fleet of disposable robot cargo ships that are used to transport hardware and critical supplies to the space station. Russia's unmanned Progress ships and Japan's H-2 Transfer Vehicles (HTVs) also regularly ferry cargo to the orbiting outpost. The cargo ships then remain attached to the complex for up to six months before they are packed with garbage and deliberately sent to burn up during atmospheric re-entry.
“We are proud that ESA is providing the most sophisticated vehicle servicing the Space Station,” said Thomas Reiter, ESA’s Director of Human Spaceflight and Operations. “Based on the capabilities and knowhow that ESA and European industry developed in the context of the ATV programme, we have now the opportunity to further evolve this technology. This will open up a wide range of opportunities for us to contribute to future ventures in space exploration.”
The spacecraft is 35 feet long and 14.7 feet wide - large enough to fit a double-decker bus inside. Europe's disposable ATVs are designed to automatically dock to the Zvezda module on the Russian portion of the International Space Station.
Things between the ESA and NASA have deteriorated in the recent past due to budget cuts at Cape Canaveral.
Check out these great pictures via the ESA: