The Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) was a cargo spacecraft for the ISS developed by ESA, analoguous to the Russian Progress and America's Cargo Dragon. It had three times the Progress' capacity and the program went very well. Why was it retired eventually? There was also a proposed crewed version, but meanwhile the ATV flies no longer, and so Europe still doesn't have an own crewed spacecraft.

Since Europe is involved in the ISS, it seems weird that only America and Russia supply the ISS. Why did they halt the fantastic ATV program?

  • $\begingroup$ Probably just money. Expensive program Ariane 5 launch is expensive. $\endgroup$
    – geoffc
    Apr 19, 2021 at 10:11
  • $\begingroup$ @geoffc I have no idea why they retired the Ariane 4 either. $\endgroup$
    – Giovanni
    Apr 19, 2021 at 10:36
  • $\begingroup$ I am also a fan of the ATV. "Jules Verne" approaching the ISS on the first ATV mission. images-assets.nasa.gov/image/iss016e034177/… Lots of X-wing jokes at work when this happened. $\endgroup$ Apr 19, 2021 at 18:09
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @OrganicMarble Yeah this was a unique design of a terrestrial spacecraft so far. $\endgroup$
    – Giovanni
    Apr 19, 2021 at 18:13

1 Answer 1


I too am an admirer of the ATV and wish it had been developed further. I remember watching the ATV-1 "Jules Verne" mission at JSC and the "Houston, there's an X-wing requesting permission to dock" jokes1.

enter image description here

The official explanation is obsolescence of components.

"If we wanted to reopen production lines, there is a significant obsolescence problem at the equipment [and] component level," Chesson told Spaceflight Now.

Bob Chesson is/was "a senior advisor in ESA's human spaceflight directorate."

In a sense the ATV may live on as the precursor of the Orion service module.

The Orion service module, which provides propulsion, power, thermal control and elements of the life-support system for Orion, is based on ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) cargo freighter. ESA had been reimbursing NASA for Europe’s 8 percent share of space station common operating charges by launching five ATV vehicles, which paid Europe’s station bills until 2017. The Orion service module completes this obligation through 2020.

Source: spacenews.com

I am not sure how this plays with the "obsolescence of components" rationale however.

1 The ATV docked with the Russian side of the ISS, but hey, it's a joke.

  • $\begingroup$ The concept of Orion is older than the ATV, originating in 2004 as part of the vision for space exploration, later renamed into Constellation project. So if anything, it becomes inspiration for a modified concept of the Orion. $\endgroup$
    – Giovanni
    Apr 20, 2021 at 16:29
  • $\begingroup$ I like the Orion with more delta-v better. $\endgroup$
    – ikrase
    Apr 21, 2021 at 9:12
  • $\begingroup$ @Giovanni Not true, ATV is older than that, originally developed as a cargo vehicle to support free-flying Columbus and/or the module as part of SSF, for ESA in the mid-80s. ATV started looking the way it did during the late 90s, quite some time before the Constellation program was announced. The problem with multi-nation projects is that internal issues end up souring the good intentions, and ATV was just one of those where once the contract was completed, member nations started looking elsewhere, taking their money with them. Good to see it live on in the SM though. $\endgroup$ Dec 29, 2022 at 16:38

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