Backdropped by Earth's horizon and the blackness of space, European Space Agency's (ESA) "Johannes Kepler" Automated Transfer Vehicle-2 (ATV-2) ending its mission, begins its relative separation from the International Space Station. The ATV-2 undocked from the aft port of the Zvezda Service Module at 10:46 a.m. (EDT) on June 20, 2011.
The Automated Transfer Vehicles (ATV) are probably the most complicated series of spacecraft ever built in Europe. The ATV-series are launched and operated by the European Space Agency. Their complexity comes from the nature of their mission and the constraints imposed by their destination, the International Space Station (ISS).
Like all ATVs, ATV-2 — dubbed Johannes Kepler — is designed to carry over seven tons of experiments, fuel, water, food and other supplies from Earth to the ISS orbiting at about 217 miles. When it arrives, it becomes a 777 cubic foot extension to the ISS, giving extra space for the six astronauts and cosmonauts who form the permanent ISS crew.
Kepler spacecraft on approach to the ISS. Photographed by astronaut Paolo Nespoli from the International Space Station. Image ESA
ATV-2 docked to the ISS as seen from the space shuttle Endeavour
While attached, apart from transferring its cargo to the ISS, the ATV also gets loaded up with solid and liquid waste from the station; its thrusters are used to periodically boost the ISS orbit (which decays with time) and it can also be used for emergency maneuvers, such as those required if a piece of space debris is predicted to hit the station.After about six months, the ATV is undocked from the ISS, and undergoes two carefully planned maneuvers, which direct it on a trajectory that will cause it to burn up harmlessly in the atmosphere over an uninhabited area of the Pacific ocean. The first ATV, Jules Verne, was launched on 9 March 2008 and reentered the atmosphere on 29 September 2008. Johannes Kepler flew its mission between 16 February and 21 June 2011.
ATV-2 automatically docking with the ISS in February 2011.