The European Space Agency wants to increase its astronaut time on the International Space Station from six months in every two years to six in every year by buying time from its ISS partners.

The financing of this further ISS exploitation will be proposed to the agency's member states' ministerial council to be held in November.

Under the ISS agreement ESA is alloted six months in every 24 months, but it is negotiating with the Italian space agency for use of that country's time on station, accrued through Italy's provision of the multi-purpose logistics module to NASA.

Beyond that, ESA could buy more time with cash. ESA purchased time from the Russians to enable the six-month Astrolab mission that saw German-born European astronaut Thomas Reiter work on ISS from July to December 2006.

"We will be recommending to the [ESA member states'] ministers this November that we should look for an opportunity to finance further astronaut flights such that we get one European every six months on the station, one six-month slot every year," says ESA ISS programme manager Alan Thirkettle.

This increase in ISS exploitation is possible from May 2009 when the station increases its crew number to six. This will consist of three Russians, two Americans and another astronaut from either Canada, ESA or Japan.

ESA's ISS cargo spaceship, the automated transfer vehicle, is to be launched between 22 February and 9 March. Rendezvous operations will be practised once the ATV is in orbit and possible docking dates are 15, 19 and 30 March and 5 April.