But USA refuses Russian request to double length of ISS shifts from six to 12 months, citing reduced operational state

A new $1.1 billion contract for the first automated transfer vehicle (ATV) has been negotiated by the European Space Agency (ESA) with prime contractor EADS Space Transportation. The fixed-price contract was renegotiated after technical problems delayed the first flight of the cargo spacecraft from this year to mid-2005.

The first ATV, named Jules Verne, has been integrated and is currently undergoing electrical tests in Bremen. It will be launched by Ariane 5 ECA to rendezvous automatically with the Inter-national Space Station, carrying 7.5t of payload.

Weighing almost 21t at launch, the resupply vehicle will carry dry cargo, water and air, and propellant, allowing the ATV to reboost the ISS's orbit. After six months the craft, with 6.5t of waste, will detach from the station and burn up on re-entry. Six more ATVs are planned to be launched during the lifetime of the ISS.

Meanwhile, as the Soyuz TMA4 docked with the ISS on 27 April, bringing a new two-man expedition crew for a six-month stay, NASA turned down Russia's request to double the length of shifts to 12 months. The US space agency says "the time is not right" to extend the length of the 10th crew mission, scheduled for launch in October, although it is possible that the 11th crew, scheduled for launch in April 2005, could remain on the ISS for a year provided the Space Shuttle has returned to flight.

NASA blames the station's reduced operational state and says insufficient countermeasures are in place to offset the effects of longer flights. Russia continues to press for extended flights to begin in October. "Our position is rigid - the next crew must make a long flight," says Yuri Semenov, director of Soyuz manufacturer Energia. "We are ready for long flights. Our equipment is ready. Our partners must listen to their Russian colleagues."



Source: Flight International