Johannes Kepler “will tumble, disintegrate and burn”

ESA’s second Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), Johannes Kepler, the first operational version, was launched on 16 February this year.  At a total mass of 20 tonnes it was Europe’s heaviest spacecraft.

As well as delivering its payload to the International Space Station, on 2 April Johannes Kepler successfully manoeuvred the complex to avoid a collision with space debris and, over recent days, boosted the 417-tonne Station to a higher orbit – from around 345 km to its new height of 380 km.

The ATV-2 can be seen, along with the Space Shuttle Endeavour, docked with the ISS in these recent stunning images and video taken by European Space Agency astronaut Paolo Nespoli from the Russian Soyuz spacecraft that undocked from the station on May 23.

Packed with a new cargo of some 1200 kg of waste bags and unwanted hardware from the Station, Johannes Kepler undocked from the ISS yesterday.

And, following in the footsteps of Jules Verne, later this evening it’s heading for fiery destruction.

Serving the International Space Station is a valuable job but it will come to a spectacular end: ESA’s second Automated Transfer Vehicle, packed with Station rubbish, will deliberately plummet to its destruction on Tuesday in Earth’s atmosphere.

Just like the tonnes of natural space debris that collide with our planet every day, the 10-tonne ferry will burn up on reentry.

Only a few hardy pieces might survive and splash into the uninhabited South Pacific. The area’s air and sea traffic has been warned and a no-fly zone will prevent any accidents.

The BBC’s spaceman, Jonathan Amos, has some info on the secrets of falling to Earth.

The re-entry will be recorded by a Reentry Breakup Recorder (REBR).

And from the ATV-2 blog

Where’s ATV now? Since undocking from Station at 14:46 UT yesterday, ATV2 has been in an independent orbit and is flying under the control of ATV-CC. ATV conducted a space debris avoidance manoeuvre last night at 18:30 UT, just a few hours after undocking.

Deorbiting: The deorbit will be accomplished by two engine burns. The first occurs at 17:06 UT (19:06 CEST) and lasts 609 seconds, while the second comes at 20:04 UT (22:04 CEST) and is planned for 849 seconds. All operations today are being managed in real-time, so the actual times and durations of any of the deorbit events may vary. Check the ATV blog regularly!