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ESA wants International Space Station to live longer

by Staff Writers
The Hague (AFP) Nov 25, 2008
The European Space Agency (ESA) on Tuesday said it hoped the International Space Station (ISS), whose operational life beyond 2015 remains uncertain, would continue working until at least 2020.

"We are pushing and hoping it can go longer than that (2015), at least until 2020," said ESA spokesman Franco Bonacina on the first day of a ministerial-level conference gathering the 18 ESA members plus Canada.

Following the addition to the ISS this year of the European laboratory Columbus, "we are now in the position to exploit the ISS" for scientific work, Bonacina said.

Europe's contribution to ISS is a key issue in the two-day talks in The Hague focusing on spending plans. ESA has suggested a budget of 10.4 billion euros (13.3 billion dollars) to fund its existing and future schemes.

However, its director general Jean-Jacques Dordain has said he will be satisfied with 9.3 billion euros (11.9 billion dollars), an increase of 15 percent over current spending, Bonacina said.

The main European additions to the ISS, which celebrated its 10th birthday on November 20, have been the Columbus science lab and the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) supply craft.

The US-led orbital construction project has been hit by cost overruns and delays, many of them linked to the loss of the space shuttle Columbia in 2003.

European scientists and policymakers have fretted that, with a 2015 closedown, there would be scant time for making use of their ISS investment.

Spending plans under the microscope in The Hague include 1.4 billion euros (1.63 billion dollars) for the ISS from 2008 to 2012. But Germany is pushing for an additional 375 million dollars over the five-year period, delegates said.

The US space shuttle fleet is due to retire from service in 2010, and its replacement, by a rocket-and-capsule system, is unlikely to be phased in before 2015.

As a result, the only crew transport to the ISS in the interim lies with Russia's Soyuz spacecraft.

European countries are facing calls to transform the ATV from a one-way freight carrier into a vessel able to return objects to Earth, and later to upgrade it to carry personnel.

A preliminary study, costing 30 million euros (38.4 million dollars), will assess the feasibility of the first phase of this scheme.

Among other proposals, ESA's scientific programme would be endowed with between 2.1 and 2.2 billion euros (2.69-2.81 billion dollars) for 2009-2013, an increase of 3.5 percent per year over the current allocation.

France, meanwhile, is pushing a new second-stage cryogenic motor that would boost the lifting capacity of the Ariane 5 from 10 tonnes to 12 tonnes, for a payload to be placed in geostationary orbit. The first phase of work in this field is estimated at 340 million euros (448 million dollars).

The agency is also seeking 850 million euros (1.088 billion dollars) for the second phase of an EU-led Earth-monitoring system called Kopernikus, previously known as the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES).

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Endeavour astronauts finish fourth and last spacewalk
Washington (AFP) Nov 24, 2008
Two US astronauts Monday finished the fourth and last spacewalk of the shuttle Endeavour's mission at the International Space Station, completing all the tasks and repairs required of them, NASA said.

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