Eu­rope's most com­plex space­craft

The ATV space transporter is a joint project between industry and research in Europe. It is the most complex spacecraft that has ever been built in Europe. Its degree of automation is significantly higher than that of the Russian Soyuz or Progress crafts. Apart from Russia, only Europe possesses an autonomous spacecraft that is able to automatically approach and dock with the ISS.

Know-how for future missions

The technology embodied by the ATV has enormous potential for future space travel applications. In order to ascertain this potential, the European Space Agency (ESA) carried out various studies on the further development of the ATV during the so-called ISS bridging phase which was triggered as a result of the accident involving the space shuttle Columbia in 2003. Here aspects such as returning payloads from the ISS to Earth in various configurations, external transport options using the ATV, docking possibilities for the ATV at the US segment of the ISS and transport of astronauts from Earth into orbit with a crew module were considered. Also investigated were the possibilities of combining several ATVs at a smaller space station, modifying the craft to be an unmanned experiment carrier and using it as a vehicle to explore beyond Earth's orbit.

Many elements from development, test results and experiences from recent years, such as the European capsule demonstrator ARD and the crew return vehicle programme (CRV) were included in the studies. The results showed that all the technology required for an ATV evolution was available in Europe. They will be of major importance in the future for manned and unmanned systems in the space station usage and exploration missions.

Assembly of additional ATVs in Bremen

The company EADS Astrium Space Transportation in Les Mureaux, France, is responsible for the development of the ATV on behalf of ESA. German companies have an interest of around 24 per cent. The development of the ATV is taking place in the framework of the European contributions to the ISS development programme. Included in this are the construction of the prototype Jules Verne 1 and the erection of all necessary ground facilities, the ATV control centre in Toulouse and the required adjustments to the Ariane 5 launch vehicles.

The construction of all additional ATVs, currently at least four units, will be financed by the ISS operating programme. EADS Astrium Space Transportation in Bremen is the main contractor for this and also for the so-called ATV follow-on activities. The latter mainly concerns possible further development of the ATV concept. The ATVs are also all integrated in Bremen, which means that all of the components are delivered from all over Europe and are assembled here to form the final craft.

Large German participation

Many German suppliers are working together on the European ATV. For example, the drive section is being produced at EADS Astrium in Lampoldshausen and the steering jet module is also being integrated there. OHB/MT Aerospace in Bremen and Augsburg are delivering the tanks, the cabling for the drive segment and have developed the meteorite protection shield for the drive section, among other things. The company Jena Optronik created and produced the telegoniometer, the major part of the sensors for the rendezvous manoeuvre. The proportion of German companies during the ATV production phase was able to be further increased compared to the development phase. It is approximately 51 per cent for the four ATVs which will be built after Jules Verne.

In total 30 companies from ten European countries are involved in the production of the ATVs. Eight companies from Russia and the USA are also delivering products and components. For example the docking system that has proven itself on the Soyuz and Progress capsules comes from Russia. The four main engines for each ATV are being supplied by the US company Aerojet Rocketdyne. These are also providing their services in the space shuttles as vernier engines for position control. A total of around 1500 people worldwide are working for the ATV in all areas: large industry, small and medium-sized companies, and space agencies.

German share of the development and production of the ATV


DLR Oberpfaffenhofen:

Coordination of the overall communication between the following control centres: ATV Control Centre Toulouse, Mission Control Center Houston, Mission Control Centre Moscow and Redu in Belgium on behalf of Astrium GmbH.

DLR Lampoldshausen:

Testing for the German Ariane 5 re-igniteable upper stage engines for use in the ATVs, and also for the 220 N steering engines.

DLR Bonn-Oberkassel:

Political control of ESA’s ISS programmes via DLR's space agency

Astrium GmbH (Bremen, auch als Auftraggeber anderer deutscher Astriumanteile in Lampoldshausen):

  • Development of the fault-tolerant main computer (FTC) and construction for all flight units.
  • Development of the drive system (PRSS) including power drive electronics (PDE) and construction for all flight units.
  • Integrating the drive segment (EPB) for all flight units.
  • Integrating the avionics segment (EAB) for all flight units except the Jules Verne.
  • Integrating the EAB and EPB and system test with the ICC for all flight units.

Azur Space Solar Power GmbH (Heilbronn):

Solar cells for all flight units.

Friwo GmbH/SAFT (Büdingen):

Non-rechargeable batteries.

Jena Optronik GmbH (Jena):

Development and construction of the telegoniometer for all flight units and construction of parts of the videometer for all flight units.

MT-Aerospace AG (Augsburg):

Development and production of fuel tank for the drive segment (EPB) for all flight units, development and construction of the steering jet modules (structure) for all flight units, construction of water and gas supply system for all flight units.

OHB System GmbH (Bremen):

Development and construction of the meteorite and debris protection shield (MDPS) for the drive segment of the Jules Verne, cabling for the drive segments of Jules Verne and all other flight units Transport containers (MGSE) for the payload module.

TESAT Spacecom GmbH & Co KG (Backnang):

Procurement management for electronic components for all flight units.

Vega Informations- Technologien GmbH (Darmstadt):

Support for simulation models.


Elke Heinemann

Digital Communications
German Aerospace Center (DLR)
Corporate Communications
Linder Höhe, 51147 Cologne
Tel: +49 2203 601-1852