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Europe's Last ATV Cargo Spaceship Falls to Fiery Doom

In the end, Europe's fifth and final space station freighter went out with more of a fiery blaze than with the Big Bang of its namesake.
Image: ATV-5
The orientation of its solar arrays makes the European Space Agency's uncrewed ATV-5 cargo spaceship look a bit like a Star Wars-style X-wing fighter as it pulls away from the International Space Station.ESA / NASA
/ Source: CollectSpace

In the end, Europe's fifth and final space station freighter went out with more of a fiery blaze than with the Big Bang of its namesake.

The European Space Agency's ATV-5, christened the Georges Lemaître after the Belgian priest and astronomer whose work led to the Big Bang theory of the universe's origin, was intentionally destroyed as it plunged back into the Earth's atmosphere on Sunday.

The unmanned spacecraft, the last of its type, came to its end at 1:11 p.m. ET. [Europe's ATV-5 Space Cargo Ship Mission in Pictures]

The re-entry came a day after the Automated Transfer Vehicle left the International Space Station, where it had been docked since last August. Launched on July 29, 2014, ATV-5 logged a total of 186 days in space.

Unpacked of its 7 tons of supplies and reloaded with 2.4 tons of trash, the Georges Lemaître fulfilled its mission, including using its thrusters to readjust the altitude of the station to compensate for atmospheric drag, reboosting to avoid debris and, in a first for an ATV last month, lowering the outpost's orbit in preparation for the arrival of the next cargo spacecraft.

Future visiting vehicles will not include the European ATV. Russian Progress vehicles, U.S. commercial Cygnus and Dragon freighters and Japan's H-II Transfer Vehicle, or HTV, will resupply the space station going forward.

"The five ATVs have paid ESA's obligations in the ISS program until 2017," Nico Dettmann, head of ESA's space transportation department, said in statement. "It has been decided to discontinue ATV, but to develop the MPCV-ESM (European Service Module) for NASA to compensate for ESA's ISS obligations until 2020."

The service module will provide propulsion and electrical power to NASA's Orion crew capsule on its missions into deep space. In return for developing the service module, European astronauts will continue to live aboard the station to work on European experiments in ESA's Columbus lab through the end of the decade.

— Robert Z. Pearlman, CollectSpace

This is a condensed version of a report from CollectSpace. Click through to CollectSpace to see a time-lapse video of ESA’s ATV-5 leaving the International Space Station. Follow on Facebook and on Twitter. Copyright 2015, distributed by All rights reserved.