Albert Einstein, ESA's fourth Automated Transfer Vehicle, flew autonomously and docked with the Space Station

European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) fourth Automated Transfer Vehicle, Albert Einstein — the heaviest spacecraft ever launched by Europe, completed a flawless rendezvous with the International Space Station on Saturday.

The Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) is now connected to the Space Station.

Jean-Jacques Dordain, Director General of ESA said that with the fourth ATV now ready to support and supply the Space Station with essential supplies and scientific experiments, ESA again proves itself to be a reliable partner in the international station upon which the future can be developed.

The 20-tonne ferry flew autonomously and docked with the 420-tonne complex with a precision of a few cm as both circled Earth at 28 000 km/h.

The rendezvous and docking were performed autonomously by ATV’s own computers, closely monitored by flight controllers from ESA and France’s CNES space agency at the ATV Control Centre in Toulouse, France, and by Luca Parmitano and his crewmates on the Station.

Like its predecessors, ATV-4 is much more than a simple supply vessel: it is a space tug, a tanker, a freighter and a temporary habitation module.

To compensate for the natural decay in altitude of the Station’s orbit caused by atmospheric drag, it is loaded with 2580 kg of propellant to perform regular reboosts. It can even move the entire space complex out of the path of hazardous space debris. ATV also provides attitude control when other spacecraft are approaching the Station.

In its tanks, it carries 860 kg of propellant, 100 kg of oxygen and air, and 570 kg of drinking water, all to be pumped into the Station’s tanks.

In its pressurised cargo module, it carries more than 1400 items packed into 141 bags, including 2480 kg of dry cargo such as scientific equipment, spare parts, food and clothes for the astronauts.