The International Space Station (ISS) is getting a new load of groceries courtesy of ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV)-5 Georges Lemaître which lifted off today. The 20-tonne unmanned cargo ship was launched atop an Ariane 5 rocket at 23:44 GMT (1:44 am CEST July 30) from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. The final flight of the ATV program, it carries six tonnes of supplies to the station.

The fifth and last of the European ATVs that have flown since 2008, ATV-5 is named after Georges Lemaître, the Belgian professor of physics and Catholic priest who first proposed the theory of the Big Bang. The 20,275 kg (44,698 lb) spacecraft is the heaviest ATV to fly and the heaviest payload flown by an Ariane 5, and has the largest power and cargo capacity of any spacecraft currently visiting the ISS.

ATV-5 is carrying 6.6 tonnes of cargo to the ISS, including ESA’s Electromagnetic Levitator designed to study the casting of alloys in a weightless environment, and several other science experiments. In addition, the craft is also carrying breathable gases, food, drinking water, spare parts, and general supplies. Because there isn't a washing machine on the station, ATV-5 is also carrying fresh clothes and a supply of high-tech ESA Spacetex t-shirts, which the space agency says will stay fresher longer.

According to ESA, it will take about a week for ATV-5 to match orbits with the ISS. Thanks to its advanced star-tracking guidance system, the spacecraft will carry out its own navigation and dock automatically with a station module. It will then spend several months attached to the ISS, where ATV-5’s thrusters will help in altering and maintaining the station’s orbit.

At the end of its mission in November, the cargo bay will be filled with rubbish and human waste. The craft will then make a controlled re-entry, where it will burn up somewhere over the South Pacific. As it does so, cameras and instruments will record and beam back the last minutes of the craft’s existence. This re-entry will use a shallower trajectory than usual in order to gain information that will be used for planning how to safely destroy the ISS safely when it’s decommissioned.

Source: ESA