An unmanned European cargo ship the size of a double-decker bus undocked from the International Space Station on Sept. 28, ending a six-month delivery flight to the orbiting lab.
The robotic Automated Transfer Vehicle 3 (ATV-3), with its four X-wing-like solar arrays unfurled, cast off from the space station Friday as the two spacecraft sailed 255 miles (410 kilometers) over western Kazakhstan in Asia. The cargo ship's undocking occurred at 5:44 p.m. EDT (2144 GMT).
The space departure occurred three days later than planned due to delays, first by a computer glitch and later by space junk near the space station.
The ATV-3 spacecraft, which is named the Edoardo Almadi after the famed late Italian physicist of the same name, made a flawless departure from the station. It will spend the next few days orbiting Earth before being intentionally destroyed on Oct. 3 by burning up in Earth's atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean. [Photos: Europe's Robotic ATV Spaceships]
"Today [Sept. 28], everything has worked to perfection," NASA spokesman Rob Navias said during the agency's live broadcast of the undocking.
The ATV-3 spacecraft was built by the European Space Agency and delivered 7.2 tons of food, water and other vital supplies to astronauts aboard the International Space Station when it launched in March from a South American spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. The ATV-3 spent 184 linked to the space station before being packed with trash and other unneeded items for its eventual fiery demise in Earth's atmosphere.
The ATV-3 is ESA's third unmanned cargo ship mission to visit the space station, which is also supplied by robotic cargo ships from Japan and Russia. In the United States, NASA has contracted two companies — SpaceX of Hawthorne, Calif., and Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corp. — to provide unmanned cargo delivery flights to the station. The first official flight by SpaceX is scheduled to launch on Oct. 7, when the company
The next ATV to launch toward the space station will be the ATV-4 Albert Einstein, which is slated to blast off in April 2013.
Related on SPACE.com: