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Third European supply podule docks with space station

'Smooth, gentle' mating at 28,000 kph

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Europe's ATV cargo ship Edoardo Amaldi successfully docked with the International Space Station last night, marking the third ATV mission to restock the ISS.

The totally automated space freighter hooked up with the Russian Zvezda module's docking cone smoothly at around 22:30 GMT last night.

The ATV was monitored from the ground while zooming into space autonomously and managing to get its 20-tonne self docked with the 450-tonne orbital complex with a precision of 6cm as the two craft circled the Earth at over 28,000 km/hr.

"No-one should consider that this smooth and gentle docking between these two giant spacecraft is either an easy or routine task,” Thomas Reiter, ESA’s Director of Human Spaceflight and Operations, said in a canned statement.

“The technologies we have demonstrated in operational conditions with the ATVs have a tremendous potential for future human spaceflight and exploration missions.”

However, potential is all it is at the moment as, despite the coolness of automated flying space freighters, the European Space Agency hasn't flown any astronauts up to the ISS yet. That job still belongs to Russia's Soyuz ships, the only ferry for crew changes at the moment.

The ATVs aren't just cargo ships though: as well as dropping off 860kg of propellant, 100kg of oxygen and air, 280kg of drinking water plus 2,200kg of dry cargo (science equipment, food, clothes and spare parts) the Edoardo Amaldi will stay docked with the station to give it some pushes and shoves.

The ship has 3,150kg of propellant onboard to boost the ISS' orbit, needed to compensate for the natural decay in its altitude caused by atmospheric drag and to shift it out of the way of dangerous space debris that might happen along. The thruster mission will be carried out for the next five months.

It'll also give the astronauts on the station some extra elbow room - 45 more cubic metres of crew quarters.

At the end of its mission, currently scheduled for August 27, Edoardo Amaldi will unplug from the ISS, filled with rubbish bags, and plunge down to burn up in the atmosphere over the South Pacific Ocean. ®

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