The International Space Station is open for business and ESA is calling on industry to help extend the capabilities of Europe’s Columbus laboratory to support science and technology in space beyond 2024.
Columbus is Europe’s single largest contribution to the International Space Station. Launched in 2008, it is the first permanent European research facility in space.
The laboratory has supported over 185 science and technology demonstrations to date, many of which are operated remotely from ESA’s Columbus Control Centre in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany.
With the lifetime of the Station expected to be extended until 2030, there is now an opportunity to modernise and enhance the lab’s capabilities – starting with an industry workshop at ESA’s technical heart ESTEC in Noordwijk, The Netherlands in November.
Head of ESA’s astronaut centre (EAC) Frank De Winne says the modernisation of Columbus over the next 10 years creates room for greater commercial involvement, allowing Europe to achieve even more in orbit while freeing up public funds for investment in future space exploration to the Moon and Mars.
“The extension of Space Station operations is a positive step in ESA’s work to increase space access for European researchers and boost industry capability Europe-wide,” he explains.
“By opening a call to industry to contribute innovative solutions for Columbus upgrades both in space and on the ground, we build on current commercial initiatives, such as the ICE Cubes facility installed in Columbus in 2018, the Bartelomeo platforms for external payloads and the new Bioreactor Express Service, and complement international efforts to further develop a truly competitive low-Earth orbit economy.”
When it comes to the Columbus upgrades, ESA sees industry playing a leading role in the provision of solutions that target both institutional requirements and commercial needs. These include upgrades to data storage, processing, management and transfer both on ground and in space as well as new facilities and capabilities for the Space Station. Companies will also have the opportunity to provide services to commercial customers.
“European industry must prepare for the future of the global space service market. US companies are already establishing a presence in Europe, but we know we have the skills and knowledge here. I cannot wait to see what Europe comes up with as we embark on the next phase of exploration and discovery,” Frank says.