How Europe's ATV Space Cargo Ship Works (Infographic)

Diagram shows inside of the European Space Agency's ATV cargo ship.
Cargo vehicle delivers 8.3 tons of solid and liquid cargo to the International Space Station. (Image credit: by Karl Tate, Infographics Artist)

The European Space Agency's Autonomous Transfer Vehicle (ATV) is an automatically piloted robot cargo craft that supplies the International Space Station. Launched from the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana, on an Ariane 5 rocket (shown at right in the infographic above), the ATV can take from several days up to about three weeks to catch up to and dock with the space station.

Final ATV Cargo Spacecraft Launched To Space Station | Video

The ATV spacecraft consists of two modules, the Integrated Cargo Carrier at the front, which contains both dry and fluid cargo, and a service module. A pressurized cabin allows astronauts on the International Space Station to access the cargo in a comfortable environment.

The ATV-5 mission carries a video camera to document the breakup of the vehicle as it re-enters the Earth's atmosphere. Cameras have often been put aboard spacecraft to document the performance of components. For example, a camera inside the second stage of the Saturn V rocket documented the jettisoning of the first stage of the vehicle. The ATV-5 mission will mark the first time that a camera has witnessed the atmospheric breakup of a vehicle from the inside.

Photos: Europe's ATV Robotic Space Cargo Ships

Space Station's Robotic Cargo Ship Fleet (A Photo Guide)

ATV-5: Europe's Heaviest Space Launch Ever (Video)

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Karl Tate contributor

Karl's association with goes back to 2000, when he was hired to produce interactive Flash graphics. From 2010 to 2016, Karl worked as an infographics specialist across all editorial properties of Purch (formerly known as TechMediaNetwork).  Before joining, Karl spent 11 years at the New York headquarters of The Associated Press, creating news graphics for use around the world in newspapers and on the web.  He has a degree in graphic design from Louisiana State University and now works as a freelance graphic designer in New York City.