In the elegant modern style 'Fermat Building' of the Toulouse space centre, the French space agency CNES, under a contract signed with ESA in 2003, developed and operates, a complex space control centre specialised in handling ATV missions in orbit.
Under the authority of ESA, the ATV-CC is responsible for the preparation and validation of the monitoring and control tools used by the 30 mission control staff during the flight. The Control Centre is also responsible for carrying out the pre-programmed mission plans and, if needed, to implement any changes.
Additionally the Centre is in charge of the orbitography, the localisation of the ATV and the monitoring of its approach to ISS. This is a challenging task, requiring a very high degree of technical skill, since it is the first time that Europe accomplishes this kind of operation.
Among the different flight control and piloting capabilities, the ATV-CC will also be able to direct the separation (undocking) of ATV from ISS. The Control Centre can then command an operation to keep the ATV in the vicinity of ISS for up to eight weeks, if needed, before a re-docking.
The mission scenario will require complex interactions and shared responsibilities between space organisations dispersed throughout the world.
First, the ATV-CC will work with the Guiana Space Centre, in charge of launch and deployment of the ATV. For rendezvous, docking and departure, the ATV-CC will work in close coordination with the Mission Control Centres in Moscow and Houston.
All the ATV ground control commands will be issued from Toulouse. For example, in case of a major malfunction during the rendezvous, the ATV-CC, as well as the ISS crew, can initiate the Collision Avoidance Manoeuvre to move the 20-tonne spaceship away from the Station before re-attempting a rendezvous the next day.
To allow continuous coordination with the other control centres and to remain in constant contact with the ATV during the mission, using relay satellites - like TDRSS and Artemis -, the ATV-CC will rely on the European communication network, called the Interconnection Ground Subnetwork (IGS), which is based at the GSOC (German Space Operations Centre of DLR), at Oberpfaffenhofen in Germany. The ATV-CC is directly linked to the Columbus Control Centre at the GSOC, which also plays the role of the central node of the communications network with our partners.