European Cargo Ship Gets Longer Stay at Space Station
The Jules Verne Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) practices approaching the International Space Station on Monday, March 31, 2008.
Credit: NASA

Europe?s first orbital cargo ship is pulling double duty as an astronaut washroom and will spend an extra month at the International Space Station (ISS).

The European Space Agency (ESA) extended the mission of its unmanned space freighter Jules Verne, the first of a new fleet of disposable Automated Transfer Vehicles (ATV), to September to give the station one more month to draw on its rocket fuel supply.

Since the spacecraft?s April arrival, station astronauts have slept, worked and played inside its roomy interior as they move cargo and, unexpectedly, use its water tank for their daily washing, ESA officials said.

?It?s like we added a new room onto the aft end of the service module,? NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, who commanded the station during Jules Verne?s arrival, told SPACE.com after returning home in late April. ?It was just a really incredible increase in volume aboard the space station.?

Jules Verne is a cylindrical spacecraft about the size of a double decker London bus and is powered by four wing-like solar panels that lend it the appearance of a squat dragonfly in orbit. It measures about 32 feet (10 meters) long and 15 feet (4.5 meters) wide.

The extra room is apparently appreciated by station astronauts, who made a special request to use the spacecraft as an extra sleeping space, as well as for bathing and washing their hair with their rinseless, alcohol-free shampoo, ESA officials said.

?The ATV's pressurized cabin offers the crew a large space, a lot of privacy and it also helps to keep the station air humidity level lower,? said ESA ATV mission director Herv? C?me of the ATV Control Centre in Toulouse, France, in a statement.

Jules Verne launched toward the station on March 8 (ET) and spent weeks conducting rendezvous tests before docking at the end of the station?s Russian-built Zvezda service module. The spacecraft is designed to haul nearly 8 tons of cargo to the station — about three times that of Russia?s unmanned Progress supply ships — then dispose of trash and unneeded items by burning up over the Pacific Ocean during reentry.

ESA officials spent 1.3 billion Euros ($1.9 billion) developing Jules Verne and plan to launch four more ATVs to the station in return for including European astronauts on future long-duration missions to the orbital lab.

The spacecraft is just one of several new additions to the space station this year. In February, astronauts delivered Europe?s Columbus laboratory to the ISS, then followed a month later with a small storage room for the space station?s Japanese Kibo module.

Jules Verne docked at the station on April 3, setting the stage for the delivery Japan?s main Kibo lab, a 37-foot (11-meter) room about the size of a large tour bus. Astronauts aboard NASA?s shuttle Discovery spent two weeks installing the new Japanese module at the station earlier this month.

Meanwhile, in the past week Jules Verne has successfully refueled the space station?s rocket propellant tanks and boosted the outpost?s orbit by 4.3 miles (7 km) to an altitude of about 214 miles (345 km) during a 20-minute engine burn.

?Jules Verne is an incredible spaceship; it is performing beyond our best hopes,? said Alberto Novelli, chief of ESA?s ATV mission operations at the cargo ship?s control center. ?ATV has fulfilled all its objectives perfectly and on top of that, several new functions have been made possible that we did not initially plan for.?