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European cargo craft heads to International Space Station

The "Edoardo Amaldi" Automated Transfer Vehicle-3 launches atop an Ariane 5 rocket from the Arianespace launch site in Kourou, French Guiana. An ESA photo

KOUROU (BNS): Europe on Friday successfully launched its third automated transfer vehicle, ATV-3 Edoardo Amaldi, on a supply and servicing mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

An Ariane 5 rocket, carrying the 20-tonne spacecraft, made a night-time lift off from the European spaceport in French Guiana at 04:34 GMT, the European Space Agency (ESA) said.

The flight will deploy the ATV into a 260-kilometer orbit, positioning the payload for its docking with the space station.

Friday's launch was the heaviest payload ever to be orbited by the Ariane 5 rocket, Arianespace said.

The ATV-3 is carrying over 7 tonnes of fuel, water, oxygen, air and dry cargo for the six-member space station crew, according to NASA.

The spaceship is set for an automated docking with Russia's Zvezda module in the orbital outpost at 2234 GMT on March 28.

In addition to serving as a resupply spacecraft, the ATV-3 will also function as a "tug" while docked to the crewed orbital facility for up to six months.

Europe has been supporting space supply missions along with Russia's Progress spacecraft and Japan's H-II Transfer Vehicles.

The ATVs are contributing to the support and maintenance of the ISS by supplying cargo since 2008 when the first ATV, Jules Verne, was launched on March 9. The second spacecraft of the series, Johannes Kepler, went on its mission in February, 2011.

ESA plans to build at least five ATVs and launch each every year.

The next ATV, designated Albert Einstein, is scheduled to be launched in early 2013.



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