ESA Director General, Antonio Rodotà, and NASA Administrator, Daniel Goldin, met at ESA Headquarters in Paris on 11 November to take stock of their ongoing collaborative ventures and exchange views on the future of their Agencies and the role cooperation will play in that future.
In their review of the current situation, Mr Rodotà and Mr Goldin confirmed their commitment to closer relations aimed at enhancing the already strong cooperation between the two Agencies.
The ESA Director General outlined the strategic evolution under way which, in close cooperation with all the Agency's Member States, will reinforce the development of space applications such as telecommunications, satellite navigation, Earth observation and Earth sciences. To this end, ESA will make every effort to bring together, in a coherent and balanced way, all the potential of its Member States in terms of knowledge, expertise and resources so that Europe can become a stronger player in the applications field and an even stronger partner in international cooperation.
The two heads of agency discussed potential international cooperation on the exploration of Mars and the need for coordination of the various missions envisaged, in order to avoid duplication of effort. ESA has introduced the Mars Express mission into its recently restructured long-term science programme. This mission, which could be approved later in November by ESA's Science Programme Committee for a launch in May/June 2003, consists of an orbiter carrying a scientific payload and possibly up to four mini-lander modules. A number of ESA Member States and NASA have expressed interest in supplying the landers and other elements of the mission.
Regarding the International Space Station (ISS), on which ESA/NASA cooperation is already well established, the two heads of agency agreed it was vital to bring all partners together to establish ground rules on station utilisation. They evaluated the joint efforts needed to make all potential users fully aware of the availability of such a unique vehicle for microgravity experiments, science, Earth observation and technology development.
ESA is a key partner in the ISS programme and its major contribution consists of the Columbus Orbital Facility, a multi-purpose scientific and technological laboratory module permanently attached to the core of the space station, and the Automated Transfer Vehicle, a cargo vessel to be launched by Ariane 5 for re-supply missions. ESA will also be present in 16 of the 47 assembly flights needed to build the space station over the period 1998-2003 with equipment contibuting to this international endeavour.
In October, ESA delivered to the Russian Space Agency the Data Management System: computer hardware and software for the Russian Service Module being readied for launch on a Russian Proton vehicle to the ISS in December 1998. This system will perform the critical navigation, guidance and mission management functions of the space station during the early phases of its assembly and then those of the entire Russian segment of the ISS throughout its 10 to 15 years of operational life.
Mr Rodotà and Mr Goldin are scheduled to meet again next January.