Europe Names Third Space Cargo Ship After Italian Space Pioneer
Edoardo Amaldi (1908-1989).
Credit: ESA

The European Space Agency (ESA) has named its next unmanned space cargo ship the Edoardo Amaldi, after the Italian space pioneer known for contributing to advances in experimental physics and the understanding of gravitational waves.

The new vehicle is ESA?s latest Automated Transfer Vehicle, an unmanned spacecraft the size of a London double decker bus. It follows the debut ATV (called Jules Verne), which flew to the International Space Station (ISS) successfully in 2008, and the fleet?s second vehicle ? christened Johannes Kepler ? which is being readied for its own flight.

The unmanned Jules Verne launched March 8, 2008, and later docked with the space station to deliver 4.5 metric tons of supplies. The spacecraft also served as a propulsion unit to move the space station out of the path of orbital debris, before undocking and burning up in re-entry after six months in space.

ESA named the first ATV after the visionary French science-fiction writer Jules Verne, while the second ? slated for launch later this year ? honors the German mathematician and astronomer Johannes Kepler.

"Italy is a key European country in our participation in the ISS partnership. By naming ATV-3 after Edoardo Amaldi, we celebrate a great Italian, but also a committed European who understood the importance of pooling resources and minds together to achieve important results," said Simonetta Di Pippo, ESA?s director of human spaceflight in a statement. "The ATV is the first recurring production of an exploration spacecraft and places Europe a step closer to our partners."

From Fermi to the future

Edoardo Amaldi played a leading role in Italian science in the 20th century, particularly in fundamental experimental physics.

During the 1930s, Amaldi was a member of a group of young scientists in Rome, who, led by Enrico Fermi, made the famous discovery of slow neutrons, which later made the nuclear reactor possible. He contributed to nuclear physics in the 1930s and 1940s, and to cosmic rays and particle physics afterwards. He became a pioneer in the search for gravitational waves in the 1970s.

"It is widely acknowledged that since the 1950s the inception of the visionary concept aiming to a unified European capability to explore outer space is largely due to a bunch of prominent European scientists, and Edoardo Amaldi was a leading name among them," Di Pippo said.

Europe?s ATV spacecraft are designed to haul 6.6 metric tons of cargo to the space station approximately every 17 months, a destination 180 miles (340 km) above Earth.

ESA hopes to adapt the ATV's new technologies to new spacecraft, such as the Advanced Reentry Vehicle. A reentry capsule could replace the pressurized part of the ATV, in order to return cargo and experiments to Earth.

ATV capabilities could eventually develop into spacecraft for astronaut transportation, complex space infrastructures or robotic sample-return missions.