The European Space Agency successfully completed a major test of the Jules Verne Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) on Monday, moving within 11 meters of the International Space Station. Tomorrow, in a final test, it will reach the ISS dock. The Jules Verne ATV, seen here from the ISS, is an amazing multi-purpose vehicle that will take over the cargo-ferrying duties of the Soviet Progress vessels and the American Space Shuttle, schlepping critical supplies to astronauts on-board the ISS. It's essentially a beta version of the kinds of vehicles that will bring beer and donuts to moon bases for hungry lunar tourists.
The ESA's ATV is fully automated. When it gets close to the ISS, the entire docking procedure is handled by computers using GPS, optical sensors and an off-board laser range-finder. Once it is docked, astronauts can enter the cargo bay directly from the main ISS modules and retrieve supplies without ever putting on a space suit. It will remain docked for several months, during which time it will be emptied of supplies and then gradually filled with waste and garbage (liquid and solid).
When it's time for another cargo vehicle to dock with the ISS, the Jules Verne will undock and head into a steep re-entry over the Pacific Ocean, burning up when it hits the atmosphere. The ESA has plans for another six expendable cargo vehicles - it would be cool if they named them all after classic sci-fi authors. The Jules Verne carried two rare manuscripts by the groundbreaking writer, which will be kept on the ISS. Photo by: ESA.