The International Space Station is to get another laboratory with the permanent berthing of a modified multipurpose logistics module during the final Space Shuttle mission.
The Italian-designed and built - but NASA owned - logistics module Raffaello will be attached in September 2010 during Endeavour's STS-133 mission.
Above: Thales Alenia built Multi-Purpose Logistics Module Raffaello sits attached to the ISS during Shuttle mission STS-100
Initially carrying spare parts because the Shuttle's 2010 retirement means ISS is facing a spares shortage
, the module has 16 equipment racks for its 9,400kg (20,600lb) of cargo that could be used for experiments.
The Italian Space Agency (ASI) will pay for the module changes including micrometeroid protection. In return the agency is guaranteed a seat on NASA's next crew transport system and six ISS mission opportunities for its Italian astronauts. These are three short-duration missions and three six-month expeditions.
The ASI says it can "confirm that we are going to sign an agreement. One module will became a permanent element of the ISS. It will be an ASI activity with national funds co-ordinated with ESA as the main European partner of the ISS programme."
In April 2008 ASI said that NASA had rejected the idea, although Italy would pay the €22 million ($31.3 million) upgrade cost.
On 16 May 2009 NASA's ISS programme manager Michael Suffredini said that the permanent module idea was being reconsidered. He explained that to accommodate the module and a station logistics pallet the STS-133 crew is to be cut from seven to five.
With a shorter mission - partly because the module is not loaded back into the orbiter - the crew's reduced consumable needs would save 400kg (880lb) for the module and its spares.
Flightglobal.com understands the Space Shuttle programme wants STS-133 to be the final mission. NASA was not available for comment.