What's the best thing to do with a $600 million spacecraft when you're finished with it? Watch it burn, of course.
The International Space Station requires regular shipments of air, water, propellant, and other cargo. Some of those resupply duties are carried out by expendable Automated Transfer Vehicles (ATVs) from the European Space Agency.
When the unmanned Albert Einstein ATV-4 undocked from the ISS late last month, astronauts positioned themselves to watch as it burned up on re-entry.
Launched in June aboard an Ariane 5 rocket, the Albert Einstein was the size of a double-decker bus. The agency describes these sophisticated spacecraft as "almost a combination of tug boat and river barge."
The Einstein carried a record cargo of 5,467 pounds, including more than 1,400 individual items from clothing to 3D-printed space toolboxes. It also boosted the space station to a higher orbit to counteract atmospheric drag.
When its cargo was unloaded, the robotic craft was filled with waste material to free up space on the ISS. It was also a record amount of waste for the ATV series.
The Albert Einstein was then undocked and maneuvered to a re-entry trajectory about 60 miles below the station.
Check out the animation below composed of photos taken from the ISS as the ATV disintegrates over an uninhabited part of the southern Pacific Ocean.
The fifth and final ATV in the program, Georges Lemaître, is slated to launch next June.