Image: European Space Agency's ATV-3
The European Space Agency's ATV-3 Edoardo Amaldi supply ship is seen undocking from the International Space Station on Sept. 28, 2012, in this still image from a video camera on the station.
updated 9/28/2012 8:49:17 PM ET 2012-09-29T00:49:17

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).

The space departure occurred three days later than planned due to delays, first by a computer glitch and later by space junk near the space station.

  1. Space news from
    1. KARE
      Teen's space mission fueled by social media

      Science editor Alan Boyle's blog: "Astronaut Abby" is at the controls of a social-media machine that is launching the 15-year-old from Minnesota to Kazakhstan this month for the liftoff of the International Space Station's next crew.

    2. Buzz Aldrin's vision for journey to Mars
    3. Giant black hole may be cooking up meals
    4. Watch a 'ring of fire' solar eclipse online

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:

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.

You can follow Managing Editor Tariq Malik on Twitter@tariqjmalik and on Twitter @Spacedotcom. We're also on Facebook & Google+.

Photos: Month in Space: January 2014

loading photos...
  1. Southern stargazing

    Stars, galaxies and nebulas dot the skies over the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Paranal Observatory in Chile, in a picture released on Jan. 7. This image also shows three of the four movable units that feed light into the Very Large Telescope Interferometer, the world's most advanced optical instrument. Combining to form one larger telescope, they are greater than the sum of their parts: They reveal details that would otherwise be visible only through a telescope as large as the distance between them. (Y. Beletsky / ESO) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A balloon's view

    Cameras captured the Grandville High School RoboDawgs' balloon floating through Earth's upper atmosphere during its ascent on Dec. 28, 2013. The Grandville RoboDawgs’ first winter balloon launch reached an estimated altitude of 130,000 feet, or about 25 miles, according to coaches Mike Evele and Doug Hepfer. It skyrocketed past the team’s previous 100,000-feet record set in June. The RoboDawgs started with just one robotics team in 1998, but they've grown to support more than 30 teams at public schools in Grandville, Mich. (Kyle Moroney / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Spacemen at work

    Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov, right, and Sergey Ryazanskiy perform maintenance on the International Space Station on Jan. 27. During the six-hour, eight-minute spacewalk, Kotov and Ryazanskiy completed the installation of a pair of high-fidelity cameras that experienced connectivity issues during a Dec. 27 spacewalk. The cosmonauts also retrieved scientific gear outside the station's Russian segment. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Special delivery

    The International Space Station's Canadian-built robotic arm moves toward Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Cygnus autonomous cargo craft as it approaches the station for a Jan. 12 delivery. The mountains below are the southwestern Alps. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Accidental art

    A piece of art? A time-lapse photo? A flickering light show? At first glance, this image looks nothing like the images we're used to seeing from the Hubble Space Telescope. But it's a genuine Hubble frame that was released on Jan. 27. Hubble's team suspects that the telescope's Fine Guidance System locked onto a bad guide star, potentially a double star or binary. This caused an error in the tracking system, resulting in a remarkable picture of brightly colored stellar streaks. The prominent red streaks are from stars in the globular cluster NGC 288. (NASA / ESA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Supersonic test flight

    A camera looking back over Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo's fuselage shows the rocket burn with a Mojave Desert vista in the background during a test flight of the rocket plane on Jan. 10. Cameras were mounted on the exterior of SpaceShipTwo as well as its carrier airplane, WhiteKnightTwo, to monitor the rocket engine's performance. The test was aimed at setting the stage for honest-to-goodness flights into outer space later this year, and eventual commercial space tours.

    More about SpaceShipTwo on PhotoBlog (Virgin Galactic) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Red lagoon

    The VLT Survey Telescope at the European Southern Observatory's Paranal Observatory in Chile captured this richly detailed new image of the Lagoon Nebula, released on Jan. 22. This giant cloud of gas and dust is creating intensely bright young stars, and is home to young stellar clusters. This image is a tiny part of just one of 11 public surveys of the sky now in progress using ESO telescopes. (ESO/VPHAS team) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Fire on the mountain

    This image provided by NASA shows a satellite view of smoke from the Colby Fire, taken by the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer aboard NASA's Terra spacecraft as it passed over Southern California on Jan. 16. The fire burned more than 1,863 acres and forced the evacuation of 3,700 people. (NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Where stars are born

    An image captured by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Orion Nebula, an immense stellar nursery some 1,500 light-years away. This false-color infrared view, released on Jan. 15, spans about 40 light-years across the region. The brightest portion of the nebula is centered on Orion's young, massive, hot stars, known as the Trapezium Cluster. But Spitzer also can detect stars still in the process of formation, seen here in red hues. (NASA / JPL-Caltech) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Cygnus takes flight

    Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket rises from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va, on Jan. 9. The rocket sent Orbital's Cygnus cargo capsule on its first official resupply mission to the International Space Station. (Chris Perry / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A long, long time ago...

    This long-exposure picture from the Hubble Space Telescope, released Jan. 8, is the deepest image ever made of any cluster of galaxies. The cluster known as Abell 2744 appears in the foreground. It contains several hundred galaxies as they looked 3.5 billion years ago. Abell 2744 acts as a gravitational lens to warp space, brightening and magnifying images of nearly 3,000 distant background galaxies. The more distant galaxies appear as they did more than 12 billion years ago, not long after the Big Bang. (NASA / NASA via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Frosty halo

    Sun dogs are bright spots that appear in the sky around the sun when light is refracted through ice crystals in the atmosphere. These sun dogs appeared on Jan. 5 amid brutally cold temperatures along Highway 83, north of Bismarck, N.D. The temperature was about 22 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, with a 50-below-zero wind chill.

    Slideshow: The Year in Space (Brian Peterson / The Bismarck Tribune via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  1. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  2. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  3. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  4. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.


Discussion comments