European space freighter in dress rehearsal for ISS hookup
( AFP ) - Europe's brand-new robot space freighter was inching towards the International Space Station (ISS) on Monday as mission controllers practised key manoeuvres ahead of a maiden linkup on Thursday, the European Space Agency (ESA) said.
Navigating for the first time with a laser-based optical system, the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) was to move to within just 11 metres ( 35.75 feet) of ISS' docking port, it said.
Mission control in Toulouse, southwestern France, also put the cargo ship through close-proximity and control drills as the distance gently narrowed.
The nearly 20-tonne freighter is designed to dock automatically with the Russian-made module Zvezda, one of the earliest components of the orbital outpost in space.
Named after Jules Verne, the French author who pioneered science fiction, the vehicle carries 7.5 tonnes of water, food and other essentials.
Designing and building it has cost ESA 1.3 billion euros (2.01 billion dollars). Four more cargo ships are in the works, with their assembly and launch each costing just over 300 million euros