Europe’s ATV Re-enters Over the Pacific Ocean

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NAPLES, Italy — Europe’s Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV)-3 unmanned cargo craft re-entered Earth’s atmosphere early Oct. 3 and broke apart in a predetermined uninhabited corridor over the southern Pacific Ocean, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced Oct. 3.

The vehicle, which during its six months at the international space station delivered fuel and supplies and performed nine reboosts to raise the orbit of the 400,000-kilogram orbital complex, spent an unusually long time lingering in orbit following its Sept. 28 undocking because of regulatory requirements on ship safety.

Ships known to traverse the waters in ATV’s re-entry zone must be given at least six days’ notice before ATV, the largest of several cargo carriers to the station, re-enters the atmosphere.

But when a computer malfunction on the station prevented the scheduled undocking on Sept. 25, ATV’s departure from the station was canceled, and a new date was not known until Sept. 27.

That made Oct. 3 the earliest possible date for atmospheric re-entry. ATV undocked Sept. 28 and was kept in a stable orbit waiting for commands to fire its engines for 14 minutes late in the evening on Oct. 2 Central European Time. A final 15-minute burn placed the vehicle on re-entry trajectory.