Following successful completion of negotiations, the Cupola contract for the International Space Station will be signed today in Turin between ESA and Alenia Aerospazio.
The Cupola programme results from a bilateral agreement between NASA and ESA under which the European Space Agency is to provide two "Cupolas" for the International Space Station in exchange for Shuttle transportation of European equipment and experiments for the Station.
The "Cupola" is a kind of Space Station control tower: an observation module, in the form of a windowed dome, that will let the crew manoeuvre the robotic arm (Space Station Remote Manipulator System - SSRMS), thereby facilitating the assembly and attachment of the various Station elements.
The Cupola will accommodate command/control workstations and other hardware to observe the Earth and Orbiter / Space Station activities. However, the Cupola mission is not restricted to operating a workstation. The Cupola will also offer unquestionable psychological benefits by providing a pressurized observation area for the crew to have a clear view of the station, the stars and Mother Earth. Thus, the Cupola will have a vital role in the evolution of the Space Station.
The two Cupola units stipulated in the contract will be launched on the Shuttle and positioned on the Nodes - the interconnecting elements of the Station - by the SSRMS. The first unit is currently planned to be attached to Node 1 ("Unity") in early 2003 and the second to Node 3 later that same year.
ESA has assigned the programme - worth around 20 million Euro (39 billion lire) - to Alenia Aerospazio following evaluation of the proposal that was judged to be the best of the competing offers. Cupola activities were formally started with the "Kick-off meeting" held in Turin on December 9th, 10th and 11th with representatives of ESA and Alenia Aerospazio. As prime contractor, Alenia Aerospazio will coordinate an industrial team of 6 other European companies, including CASA (Spain), APCO (Switzerland), Saab Ericsson and Lindholmen (Sweden), Verhaert (Belgium) and Daimler Chrysler Aerospace/DASA (Germany). In addition to developing the Cupolas, Alenia will assist ESA in interfacing with NASA.
The Cupola is an aluminium structure about 2 metres in diameter and 1.5 metres high. It has six lateral windows and one skylight, built using very advanced technologies. These windows will be protected by special shutters that can be opened and closed by the crew according to specific operations.
Internally, the Cupola must provide functions to support the presence of two astronauts operating the instruments for the control of the Station arm and communication with the rest of the Space Station.
At the signing, Giuseppe Viriglio, Head of Alenia Aerospazio Space Division, declared: "The acquisition of the Cupola programme further strengthens Alenia Aerospazio's leadership in orbiting infrastructures. What is more, it places the company in the unique position of being the second industry after prime contractor Boeing for the design and construction of systems for the International Space Station".
Joerg Feustel-Buechl, Director of ESA's Manned Spaceflight and Microgravity Directorate, stated that "The signing of the Cupola contract reinforces the already strong position of Italy and Alenia in the International Space Station. It is a logical additional task which takes advantage of their competence, built up since the beginning of our ESA manned space ventures, which started in 1973 with the Spacelab project. The Cupolas are another two elements of the International Space Station which will be built in Europe, thereby enriching its role in this vast international programme. This contract will hopefully encourage, and help to ensure, the anticipated significant participation of Italy in ESA's future operational Exploitation Programme phase of the International Space Station."
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