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Final shipment of astronaut trash set to leave international space station

NASA

An unmanned space ship will undock from the International Space Station – the last in a series of European cargo ships that has delivered supplies to astronauts since 2008.

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The Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) George Lemaitre was launched in July 2014 to carry experiments, clothing, spare parts, air, and water to the space station's six-member crew.

The ATV will be destroyed on Sunday – twelve days ahead of schedule due to a power hitch - after completing its six-month mission.

It is the fifth and final cargo ship contracted by the European Space Agency to provide supplies for the US-led ISS project.

It is the heaviest spacecraft to have been sent into orbit by an Ariane rocket, and was the first ATV to push the space station out of the way of space debris.

The ATV will be sent back to Earth at such a steep angle that it will burn up upon encountering Earth's atmostphere at hypersonic speeds.

The destruction will be captured on a special infrared camera that will transmit images back to Earth.

The initial plan was to use the burning up of the ATV as an experiment to provide data for the eventual destruction of the ISS itself, but this experiment has been scrapped due to power concerns, and a conventional re-entry will take place.

The namesake of the ATV was a Belgian astronomer and founder of the "Big Bang" theory.

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