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The ATV is a semi-automated spacecraft designed to resupply the International Space Station (ISS). It is a cylinder 10 m long and 4.5 m across with a cargo capacity of up to 8 tonnes, carrying equipment, oxygen, fuel, drinking water, food and scientific gear. The ATV is lofted into orbit by a dedicated variant of the Ariane 5 launcher, after which it docks with the ISS—a tricky operation guided from the ATV Control Centre (ATV-CC) at CNES’s Toulouse Space Centre. Once docked, the carrier’s cargo is transferred to the station, after which it is filled with waste. The ATV may remain berthed to the ISS for up to 6 months, during which time it uses its thrusters when necessary to boost the station’s orbit, which decays over time as a result of atmospheric drag. Its thrusters also serve to manoeuvre the ISS out of the way of space debris or to facilitate docking of other visiting spacecraft. After its stay in orbit, the ATV undocks from the station and then burns up on re-entering Earth’s atmosphere.
Developed by ESA, the ATV was designed to take over the ISS resupply role of the U.S. space shuttle, which was retired from service in 2011. The first ATV, Jules Verne, was launched on 9 March 2008 followed by ATV-2, Johannes Kepler in 2011, ATV-3 Edoardo Amaldi in 2012, ATV-4 Albert Einstein in 2013 and ATV-5 Georges Lemaître in 2014.