Europe's First Space Cargo Ship Recovers From Propulsion Glitch
Liftoff of Europe's ATV cargo ship Jules Verne on March, 8, 2008.
Credit: ESA/Stephane Corvaja.

PARIS -- Europe's first space station cargo carrier has regained the use of its defective propulsion system and has begun orbit-raising maneuvers, European Space Agency (ESA) officials said on Tuesday.

Jules Verne, a 41,887-pound (19,000-kg) Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), was slated to use its onboard engines to raise its orbit by about 53 miles (85 km), to 214-miles (345-km), in preparation for a series of test maneuvers that should end with a docking with the International Space Station April 3, mission managers said.

?Jules Verne ATV successfully performed a series of orbital maneuvers earlier this afternoon,? ESA officials said in a mission status update. ?Two additional orbit maneuvers tomorrow afternoon will complete the phasing boost.?

ESA launched the unmanned cargo ship the on March 8 (Eastern Time) atop an Ariane 5 rocket. The first of its kind, the ATV is designed to deliver food, water, supplies and fuel to the station.

One of four thruster packages on the ATV, each controlling seven motors, was shut down Sunday shortly after launch when its fuel and oxidizer lines showed differing pressure levels. While the vehicle is designed to operate with only three thruster systems working, officials did not want to proceed with the orbit-raising sequence until they had resolved the thruster issue.

Program managers had said it was unclear whether the pressure difference was real, or reflected a faulty reading by the Propulsion Drive Electronics (PDE) control system, which automatically switched to a backup propulsion assembly.

Officials said then they would restart the PDE system as part of a series of commands to determine the cause of the problem. John Ellwood, ATV mission manager at ESA, had said the problem might be a temporary reaction to the vibrations the system suffered during launch.

ESA spokesman Franco Bonacina said thruster system?s recovery allowed today?s two orbit-raising maneuvers.

A planned demonstration of the ATV's collision-avoidance maneuver will be postponed by 24 hours, to March 13, as a result of the thruster issue, Bonacina said. The maneuver is intended to give confidence to space station managers that ATV can dock safely with the orbital facility.

Jules Verne will remain in a parking orbit about 1,200 miles (2,000 km) away from the ISS due to another station-bound spacecraft - NASA?s shuttle Endeavour - which launched toward the orbiting lab early Tuesday on a record 16-day-long construction mission. The shuttle?s seven-astronaut crew will deliver a new crewmember, the first piece of Japan?s massive Kibo lab and a two-armed Canadian maintenance robot to the station during their spaceflight.

After Endeavour departs the space station on March 24, Jules Verne will prepare for two planned demonstration days, initially scheduled for March 29 and March 31, respectively, before docking on April 3. Senior Editor Tariq Malik contributed to this report from New York City.