Talks are underway to increase European Space Agency astronaut flight-time on the International Space Station by potentially up to 18-months. This is due to the Italian Space Agency accruing time through its provision of the multi-purpose logistics module (MPLM) for the ISS programme.

From the second quarter of 2009, crews for the six-month ISS missions will be increased to six and consist of three Russians, two Americans and a sixth
member from either Canada, ESA or Japan.

Under the existing ISS partnership agreement, this means ESA would have one astronaut on the station for six months in every 24. If the ISS operates until 2016 that could give ESA four six-month missions and the original Italian MPLM agreement gives that country an additional three.

But the outstanding dispute holding up agreement on the three missions is between Italy, which says they are six months long, and the USA, which says they are three months.

“The Italian [missions], doing the arithmetic, could be 2010, 2012 and 2014,” says ESA ISS programme manager Alan Thirkettle.  However Italy has no astronauts, but ESA’s corps includes Italian citizens. So while ESA would like more time, Italy wants compensation.

Another option open to ESA to increase its time on station is to buy it from the Russians. This has already been done and saw German born ESA astronaut Thomas Reiter on the ISS.

Source: Flight International