NASA rejects European ISS logistics project

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NASA has rejected a European proposal to permanently dock an Italian-built Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM) to the International Space Station to try to insure against shortfalls in ISS resupply after the Space Shuttle fleet is retired in 2010.

The European proposal envisaged the Thales Alenia Space-built MPLM, called Raffaello, being permanently docked to the ISS's Harmony module's zenith port from January 2010.

Under the Permanent Logistics Module (PLM) project Raffaello would have been upgraded with micrometeroid protection and launched by the orbiter Discovery on STS-130 on 21 January 2010. Discovery would return to Earth with the unmodified MPLM Leonardo that would have been left at the ISS since July 2009, when Discovery delivered it as part of its flight STS-128.

The rejection of PLM comes despite the space station's partners seeking ways of ensuring the outpost has spare parts and supplies to cope with any resupply interruptions after the Shuttle fleet's retirement.

"NASA told us [in February] it was not feasible. It would need a rearrangement of their programme and add additional costs. We had told them we would underwrite the €22 million ($34.8 million) [MPLM redesign] cost. The chances of [PLM] happening now are small," says Italian Space Agency president Giovanni Bignami. NASA was not available for comment.

The PLM project had been discussed at a multi-agency meeting in December 2007 and US space agency administrator Michael Griffin had not rejected it, but subsequent studies by his staff led to the "no" decision.

Through its ISS partnership agreement ASI procured three MPLMs from Thales Alenia Space and two of them, Raffaello and Leonardo, have been transported by the Space Shuttle to the ISS.

There they are unberthed from the orbiter's payload bay, docked with the ISS using the station's robotic arm and the ISS crew then removes the cargo.

Waste and cargo that needs to be sent back is then loaded on to the MPLM, which is undocked and placed back in the orbiter's payload bay for the return to Earth.