The latest resupply mission to the International Space Station got off to a perfect start yesterday evening with the launch of an Ariane V rocket carrying the Automated Transfer Vehicle ATV-4, “Albert Einstein.”
There is one more ATV planned for ISS, after which the European Space Agency will supply a modified version of the propulsion segment to NASA as service module for the first planned flight of the Orion capsule aboard SLS in 2017.
Yesterday’s launch marked another in a long string of successful flights for the Ariane V, which flew in its ES version configured with a storable propellant upper stage specifically designed for boosting heavily laden ATV’s to the space station’s orbit. The flight was the 69th overall for Ariane V and 54th successful launch in a row for the world’s premier heavy lift booster, a streak which began 10 years ago.
By contrast the sole American heavy lift vehicle currently in service, the EELV program’s Delta IV Heavy, has flown just six times over a nine-year time frame, with one partial failure on its maiden flight and no commercial payloads.