Automated Transfer Vehicle

ESA started the development of an Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) as part of the European support to the International Space Station. The development of a cargo spacecraft, allowing fully automated rendez-vous and docking was a major technical challenge in an international environment where also the American and Russian partners were involved in the definition of interfaces and equipment. These ATVs performed supply missions to the International Space Station (ISS), transporting various payloads such as propellant, water, air, food, and scientific research equipment. ATVs also reboosted the station into a higher orbit while docked.

Our involvement

Antwerp Space has been involved in the early definition of the Electrical Ground Support Equipment for ESA's Automated Transfer Vehicle. A number of test equipment configurations were delivered for the Test Facilities of the Airbus site at Les Mureaux to support the qualification of the ATV spacecraft. The units could be connected to either real-time workstations of the ATV simulation Facility using reflective memory interfaces or the Test Supervisor workstations used in the systems for integration and qualification of the ATV spacecraft.

The following configurations were developed and delivered :

  • two Radio Interface Front Ends, simulating the International Space Station and the NASA Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System (TDRSS) communication links to the ATV communications subsystem

  • two real-time GPS simulator front ends, used for validation of the ATV navigation flight software, when orbiting and docking

  • multiple real-time spacecraft interface simulation frond ends, providing combinations of up to 860 command and acquisition interfaces in a single 19" rack system

  • two Propulsion Drive Electronics Front End Equipment (PDE-FEE)

  • multiple Telemetry and Tele-Command (TTC) interface front ends, allowing ATV command and control either directly connected to the ATV on-board communication processors or to its transponders across the Radio Interface frond end.

The latter units were not only used in the ATV real-time simulation and test facilities, but were also delivered for the operational data links between ATV and its Control Centre located at the CNES ground facilities in Toulouse. To this extend, units were not only delivered at NASA's TDRSS White Sands and Houston facilities, but also the ESA's Artemis ground station at Redu and the ATV Control Centre in Toulouse while Antwerp Space personnel was on 'hot standby' in support for every subsequent launch phase. Hence every ATV spacecraft launched was controlled and monitored via the Antwerp Space provided Telemetry and Telecommand units from its early launch phase to final de-orbit, also when docked at the ISS. The Radio Interface front end shown below comprised a configuration consisting of four 19" racks, serving a dual purpose.

A test set-up contained :

  • 2 independent radio links which could be configured for either ISS or TRDSS operation, acting as a gateway between the ATV spacecraft under test, simulating the operational interface with the International Space Station and/or the NASA TRDSS system

  • a set of measurement equipment to verify the correct operation and validation of the ATV Radio Communications interfaces

When coupled to two TM/TC frond ends, while the Test Facilities workstations were simulating operational scenarios, the complete ATV operational radio communications links could be simulated during the initial ATV spacecraft testing phases.