Andrew Doyle/MUNICH

The European Space Agency (ESA)is close to completing negotiations with an Astrium-led consortium on the first stage of a "turnkey" industrial support package for the European elements of the International Space Station (ISS).

The full deal, to be implemented in several phases and potentially worth €2.6 billion ($2.3 billion) over the next 13 years, is due to be finalised by October, but will be reviewed by ESA's governing council every three years in line with the agency's budget allocation rules.

Terms for the first phase of ISS support, covering the pre-operational period, are due to be agreed this month, says Astrium head of ISS operations Hans-Jürgen Stephan. This will allow immediate release of the first €200 million to enable work on the support package and procurement of long-lead items to get underway before final contract signature in late 2001.

Astrium, owned by EADS and BAE Systems, is the sole bidder for the fixed-price contract in partnership with Alenia Spazio and EADS Launch Vehicles. The ISS is set to become fully operational in 2004.

The consortium, which has yet to be legally established, will take on responsibility for the "total execution of the operational phase", says ESA head of ISS exploitation preparation, Jochen Graf. The task will include operating, maintaining and updating the European Columbus scientific laboratory, due to be launched in 2004, and supporting the utilisation of the module and the running of the ground-based control centres.

The contract also covers the supply of nine Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) flights aboard Ariane 5 rockets for 10 years from 2003. The ATVs will carry payloads and provisions and be used to periodically reboost the ISS to compensate for the gradual lowering of its orbit caused by the Earth's atmosphere and solar pressure.

Graf says that in providing "operational end-to-end services" industry will be required to ensure a systems reliability rate of 98%.

Source: Flight International