Once upon a launch

Ariane and Johannes, blazing the trail to Orion 02-16-2021 |  4 minutes


From ATV to Orion: We celebrate a great event in space history, and are actively working on the next chapter in the space adventure.

Launch of ATV-2 on Ariane

10 years ago, on February 16, 2011, an extraordinary duo took to the skies to perform an incredible task. A specially designed Ariane 5 rocket lofted the Automated Transfer Vehicle ‘Johannes Kepler’, a massive 20-ton spacecraft carrying over seven tons of vital supplies up to the crew of the International Space Station (ISS) circling around the Earth.

The ATV, designed and built by ArianeGroup’s forerunner company for the European Space Agency, was a technological marvel, the first space vehicle ever capable of executing completely autonomous docking with an orbiting space station.

ATV ‘Johannes Kepler’ approaching the International Space Station


Johannes Kepler was the second of five ATVs which served the ISS between 2008 and 2014, all launched by the dedicated version of Ariane 5 adapted to these exceptional passengers with a re-ignitable upper stage to negotiate the complex trajectory maneuvers necessary to get them on their way.

The success of the ATV mission is such that it is now heading for a new destination. NASA was so impressed with its prowess that it is involving the same technologies in its next ambitious mission to take humans back to the moon – and possibly even further.

The Orion vehicle for manned space exploration missions, part of NASA’s Artemis mission, will be powered by a European service module based on ATV design and experience. This is the first time that NASA is using a European system to power and supply a spacecraft intended for manned missions, and is testimony to the outstanding technologies and engineering expertise demonstrated by the ATV.

The ArianeGroup team that delivered ATV is now working on the European Service Module (ESM) for Orion. For more on our involvement, stay tuned!