Jules Verne burns up in fireball

Europe’s most advanced and sophisticated spaceship crashed into the Pacific today as a blazing fireball. The unmanned Jules Verne was sent in a controlled dive by mission controllers in Toulouse, France.

It ended a six-month mission which sent the craft on a visit to the International Space Station.

Yesterday astronauts watched from the space station and two chase planes followed the craft as two engine firings sent it into a steep dive.

Aircraft and shipping had been warned to stay clear of a crash zone 1,700 miles long and 125 miles wide, east of New Zealand.

The maiden flight of the Automated Transfer Vehicle was a huge success and NASA Administrator Mike Griffin has led calls for it to be developed into Europe’s very own crew-carrying spacecraft.

By monitoring its break-up as it tumbled through the atmosphere, the European Space Agency aim to improve the design which would help them develop a manned spaceship.

The craft currently acts as a space tug. Jules Verne carried supplies to the space station and displayed a textbook docking using automatic laser-guided systems.

The ship, which resembled a craft from Star Wars thanks to its X-shaped solar panels, saved astronauts from potential disaster when its rockets were used to move the space station out of the way of dangerous satellite debris.

It also became a favourite anexe of the orbiting outpost where astronauts could relax or hang their sleeping bags.

The Jules Verne was finally used as a garbage truck. It was filled with waste from the space station before undocking on September 5.

The next ATV is due to be launched in 2010 from Kourou in the French Guiana jungle of South America.

Picture: A photo of the break-up of the Jules Verne taken from a DC-8 chase plane. (ESA).

★ Keep up with space news and observing tips. Click here to sign up for alerts to our latest reports. No spam ever - we promise!