Imaging sensors launched into space on board automatic spaceship

Paul Boughton

High performance imaging sensors from e2v were launched into space on board the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Albert Einstein spacecraft, the fourth automated transfer vehicle (ATV) to be sent to the International Space Station (ISS).

e2v CCD47-20 imaging sensors were selected by SODERN as part of the two key systems they delivered for the ATV; an SED16 star tracker, an optical device used for determining the orientation of the spacecraft by measuring its position relative to stars, and a Videometer, a system SODERN developed which is the primary rendezvous and docking sensor for the spacecraft.  Built under Astrium prime contractorship, the first three ATVs (Jules Verne, Johannes Kepler and Edoardo Amaldi) were also equipped with these e2v imaging sensors and successfully completed their missions in 2008, 2011 and 2012 respectively.

The Albert Einstein ATV was carried into orbit on board an Ariane 5 rocket from French Guiana and hauled almost 7 tonnes of cargo to the ISS 360km above the Earth. The spacecraft is the most powerful automatic spaceship ever built and is equipped with its own propulsion and a high-precision navigation system. e2v imaging sensors will automatically guide it into dock at the ISS, playing a key part in the approaching and docking maneuvers which are so precise, that when 249m away from the ISS, the ATV will slow down to 7cm a second. The ISS relies on frequent deliveries of equipment, fuel, spare parts, food, air and water for its permanent crew.  The unmanned ATV is essential in delivering supplies to the ISS and will stay attached to the station, providing reboost and attitude control. Once undocked, it will be commanded to burn up in the atmosphere over an uninhabited area of the southern Pacific Ocean.

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