The European Space Agency (ESA) and the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) signed an agreement in principle on Wednesday, 5 March, under which ESA will provide additional hardware and services for the International Space Station (ISS) to NASA in exchange for the European laboratory module being launched on the US Space Shuttle.
ESA will provide two essential segments of the ISS, the so-called Nodes 2 and 3, and several pieces of advanced-technology laboratory equipment to NASA, in addition to the other elements that it is already contributing. A node is an element used to connect different segments of the ISS. Node 2, for example, will provide the interface between the European and the Japanese laboratory modules.
In return, NASA will launch, at no charge, the European laboratory called the Columbus Orbital Facility (COF) on a Space Shuttle flight to the ISS. The COF is presently scheduled to be launched in late 2002/early 2003.
Under a parallel agreement with the Italian space agency (ASI), ESA will entrust the development of the nodes to ASI. This will allow Europe to take advantage of the experience gained by Italian industry through the ASI/NASA development of the Mini Pressurised Logistics Module (MPLM), for the ISS.
This measure will also significantly reduce the deficit that Italy has accumulated under ESA's policy of fair industrial return, and was welcomed by the Ministers of ESA's member states at their meeting held earlier this week.
Based on an ESA/NASA implementing arrangement to be established shortly, ESA will deliver Node 2 to NASA at the end of 1999, for launch in early 2000. Node 3 will follow about two years later. The other equipment that ESA has agreed to provide consists mainly of various types of freezers for use onboard the ISS. They will be delivered to NASA on set dates between August 2001 and August 2002.
"With this solution, everyone gains", stated Jorg Feustel-Buechl, ESA's Director of Manned Spaceflight and Microgravity who isresponsible for Europe's Space Station programme. "NASA will get the important equipment that it was seeking, delivered quickly and on time. ESA will get a Shuttle launch for its COF. Italy will see a great improvement in its industrial return situation. And the Space Station will move one step closer to becoming a reality."
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