Taken in late March 2012, this fantastic photo shows the ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicle-3 (ATV-3) approaching the ISS to deliver supplies for the station’s crew. Each European ATV is named after an influential scientific figure, with this one named after 20th Century Italian physicist Edoardo Amaldi. The last two ATVs were given the monikers Johannes Kepler and Jules Verne.
As a part of the international effort to build and maintain the ISS, the ESA is under contract to re-supply the station with these vehicles. In return, the ESA is able to send an astronaut every few years to the ISS for a six-month stay aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft. ATV-3 docked with the station on 28 March 2012, delivering 220 pounds of oxygen, 628 pounds of water, 4.5 tons of propellant and almost 2.5 tons of dry cargo for the crew. The latter includes everything from experiment hardware to food and clothing. Although the ATV is entirely automated, its docking was closely monitored by ground control and the six-member ISS crew. Once its cargo had been unpacked, it was filled with waste and unneeded items and sent to burn up in the atmosphere of Earth.
Under the ESA’s contract, two more ATVs will be built and launched to the ISS atop Ariane 5 rockets. These will be launched in 2013 and 2014 and named Albert Einstein and Georges Lemaître respectively.