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The European Space Agency has announced its intention to develop a cargo return vehicle (CARV) to bring back payload from the International Space Station. The CARV will be an evolution of the agency’s expendable Automated Transfer vehicle (ATV)

The first of the five ATVs to be flown docked with the ISS in April. ESA carried out, under its general study programme in 2004, research on a “Larger Cargo Return Spacecraft” and from the third quarter of that year a cargo return vehicle concept called CARV. It would be able to bring back “hundreds of kilograms”.

The ATV consists of a propulsion module and a carrier section. The rentry capsule would replace the carrier. The CARV’s return vehicle would use technology from ESA’s 1998 Atmospheric Re-entry Demonstrator (ARD) capsule.

The CARV proposal was made public in the 17 July joint heads of agency statement. It said:

“ESA plans for an Automated Transfer Vehicle-Advanced Return Vehicle system for downmass from the ISS,” and the agency told Flight, “it is a crucial part of the proposal to the [member states’ space ministers’] meeting in November”.

ESA’s head of the future transportation and infrastructure division, Marco Caporicci, told Flight in 2004 that CARV would be compatible with the space station’s wider-diameter US docking port, allowing larger items to be loaded and unloaded.

Caporicci also expected a 2010 in-service date for CARV if it had been approved in 2006, suggesting a 2013 start of operations assuming its approval at this November’s ministerial meeting.