The European Space Agency (ESA) is currently undertaking two studies in order to find use for its space truck, the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), when it has completed all its missions to the International Space Station in 2014. The ATV is an expendable, unmanned resupply spacecraft developed by the ESA and manufactured by Astrium Space Transportation in Germany. Five ATVs are designed to supply the International Space Station with propellant, water, air, payloads and experiments.
One of the studies will investigate whether the ATV’s service module section could provide propulsion for NASA’s Orion spacecraft, which is designed to carry astronauts to deep space destinations such as asteroids, the moon and Mars. This would give the European space manufacturer a major role in future space exploration.
The other study envisages a future for the spacecraft in providing services in low-earth orbit such as pushing infrastructure around in space or serving as a vehicle for robots that fix or decommission old satellites.
Three ATVs have already been launched with the latest one still orbiting with the ISS. The next ATV, named “Albert Einstein”, will be launched in Spring 2013.