An unmanned European cargo ship the size of a double-decker bus undocked from the International Space Station Friday, ending a six-month delivery flight to the orbiting lab.
The robotic Automated Transfer Vehicle 3 (ATV-3), with its four X-wing-like solar arrays unfurled, cast off from the space station Friday as the two spacecraft sailed 255 miles (410 kilometers) over western Kazakhstan in Asia. The cargo ship's undocking occurred at 5:44 p.m. EDT (2144 GMT).
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But Friday, the ATV-3 spacecraft, which is named the Edoardo Almadi after the famed late Italian physicist of the same name, made a flawless departure from the station. It will spend the next few days orbiting Earth before being intentionally destroyed on Tuesday by burning up in Earth's atmosphereover the Pacific Ocean. [Photos: Europe's Robotic ATV Spaceships]
"Today, everything has worked to perfection," NASA spokesman Rob Navias said during the agency's live broadcast of the undocking.
The ATV-3 spacecraft was built by the European Space Agency and delivered 7.2 tons of food, water and other vital supplies to astronauts aboard the International Space Station when it launched in March from a South American spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. The ATV-3 spent 184 linked to the space station before being packed with trash and other unneeded items for its eventual fiery demise in Earth's atmosphere.
The ATV-3 is ESA's third unmanned cargo ship mission to visit the space station, which is also supplied by robotic cargo ships from Japan and Russia. In the United States, NASA has contracted two companies — SpaceX of Hawthorne, Calif., and Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corp. — to provide unmanned cargo delivery flights to the station. The first official flight by SpaceX is scheduled to launch on Oct. 7, when the company
The ATV craft are huge cylinders 32 feet long (10 meters) and nearly 15 feet wide (4.5 m) and may be visible by observers on Earth as a bright moving light in the night sky, weather permitting. The ATV-3, like the International Space Station, can be spotted if you know where to look.
To find out if the ATV-3 will be flying over your location, visit one of these websites and enter the information for your location:
The European Space Agency is also holding a photo contest for satellite trackers hoping to snap a photo of the ATV-3 as it orbits the Earth during the next few days. Prizes will be awarded for the best snapshots.
"We look forward to seeing any and all photos of ATV in free flight and we wish you happy snapping for the contest!" ESA officials said in blog post.
For more info on the ESA's photo contest for the ATV-3 spacecraft, visit: http://blogs.esa.int/atv/2012/09/28/atv-orbital-photo-contest-orbit-details/
The next ATV to launch toward the space station will be the ATV-4 Albert Einstein, which is slated to blast off in April 2013.
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