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European Space Agency Unable to Secure Commitment for Space Station Extension

PONTEVEDRA, Fla. - The European Space Agency (ESA) was unable to win its membergovernments' approval of NASA's proposed five-year extension of operations ofthe International Space Station because of an unrelated dispute over financialsupport for Europe?s Arianespace commercial launch services consortium, ESA andEuropean government officials said.

Asa result, no decision approving the station's extension to 2020 will be madebefore a March meeting of ESA governments. ESA already is committed tosupporting the station through 2015, though the details remain to be workedout. [Photos:Building the International Space Station]

Meetingin its habitual closed-door session Dec. 15-16, ESA's ruling council issued astatement expressing general approvalfor the station's continued use, and also backing further support forArianespace.

Theresolution produced during the meeting makes no specific reference to Evry,France-based Arianespace's request for 240 million euros ($324 million) overtwo years to offset certain fixed costs of its business at its suppliers'factories in Europe and at the Guiana Space Center spaceport in French Guiana.

AntonioFabrizi, ESA's director of launchers, said the agency views Arianespace'srequest for 120 million euros per year in support as "a kind of ceiling.We will now examine the request in detail and report to our council in March onour conclusions. But our member states are generally in favor of some support.What remains is an examination of what the level of support should be."

Ina Dec. 23 interview, Fabrizi said ESA will not be reimbursing Arianespace forits operating losses in 2009 and 2010. "Those are the responsibility of Arianespaceand its shareholders," Fabrizi said.

ESAgovernments have been spending some 200 million euros per year for the pastfive years on a program called European Guaranteed Access to Space, or EGAS.

Theeffort was undertaken to pull Arianespace out of a financial tailspin followinga launcher failure and a price war for international commercial customers. EGASfunding ends in 2010, and for the moment there is nothing to replace it.

TheArianespace aid package is one of several issues competing for ESA's attentionand championed by different ESA governments. It is typical for each governmentto withhold support for other programs until its favored project is confirmed.

Thatis what happened with the InternationalSpace Station.

ESADirector-General Jean-Jacques Dordain had hoped to confirm to NASA by the endof 2010 that ESA will continueits space station partnership until at least 2020. A continuation meanspaying Europe's share of slightly more than 8 percent of the station?s commonoperating costs.

Howto distribute that charge among ESA governments has been a subject ofnegotiations for several months. Germany, as the station's biggest supporter atESA, wanted the agency to secure backing for a full station program between2010 and 2020, which German officials estimated would cost 3.8 billion euros.

Itis unlikely that a full 10-year commitment will be forthcoming in March,European government officials said. But a two-year program, coupled with aformal European commitment to continue its spacestation partnership to 2020, is well within reach, they said.

Butit was not possible to reach a decision at the December council because ESA hadagreed that the Arianespace-aid issue and the station?s extension would betethered together to better ensure that both are resolved.

Simonettadi Pippo, ESA's space station director, said the council agreed to create aworking group to determine how ESA?s space station budget might be spentproviding goods and services in lieu of cash to NASA for Europe's stationexpenses. The agency has done just that with its Automated Transfer Vehicle(ATV) unmanned cargo carrier and other in-kind contributions to the station.

Ina Dec. 17 interview, di Pippo said there is virtually no doubt that ESAgovernments will agree to the five-year extension. "In the resolution weadopted at the council meeting, our member states indicated that they wouldmaintain their commitments under the IGA," di Pippo said, referring to theIntergovernmental Agreement that binds the space station partners.

Yetto be determined is the size of ESA's space station program for the coming 10years beyond its minimum commitment to NASA, the station?s general contractor.Germany wants the budget to increase to account for increased European use ofthe now-completed orbital complex. France has proposed that the station budgetbe frozen at current levels.

DiPippo said the recent demonstration by Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX)of its ability to launch and recover a prototype of an unmanned cargo carriermay affect ESA governments' views on investment in the station in the comingyears.

"SpaceXcertainly got our attention," di Pippo said of the Dec. 8 launch, by aSpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, of the company's Dragon unmanned cargo carrier on ademonstration flight. ?This is a kind of revolution. We now know they can makeit, and so we have to concentrate, on the government side, on new developments.We cannot just stick with our ATV now that the commercial sector is able to dothis. Having visited the SpaceX facilities, I am not surprised by their success.But we need to react to it."

This article was provided by Space News, dedicated to covering all aspects of the spaceindustry.

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