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European Science Module Underway.

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Columbus science laboratory module.

The European Space Agency will sign a 1 billion Euro contract this week with EADS Space Transportation for ongoing operations of its Columbus science laboratory module for the International Space Station, and the delivery of six Automated Transfer Vehicles (ATVs). The first ATV flight will be in 2005, and will deliver spare parts, food, water and other supplies to the station. The ATVs will also be capable of raising the station's orbit to compensate for it gradually being slowed by the Earth's atmosphere. Columbus will be delivered to the station whenever the space shuttles start flying again.

On 13 July ESA and EADS Space Transportation will sign a 1 billion Euro contract which allows Europe to start the initial exploitation of the International Space Station.

The contract covers initial exploitation activities, in particular preparations for the operations of Columbus, ESA’s laboratory onboard the International Space Station, and the production of six European multifunctional cargo space ships, called "Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV)".

On behalf of the ESA Director General, Mr Jean-Jacques Dordain, the Director of Human Spaceflight, Mr Jörg Feustel-BÜechl, will sign the contract for ESA, while on the industrial side Mr Josef Kind, President of EADS Space Transportation, will sign.

The procurement of the six ATVs by ESA will be done in a stepped contractual approach. It starts with the purchase of equipment for the second ATV flight model in 2004, followed by purchase of equipment for the third ATV and the integration of the second ATV after a successful Production Readiness Review in 2005 following successful qualification of first ATV, named after Jules Verne, which has been developed and produced under the existing contract for the development and production of the European elements for the International Space Station and which is due for launch on an Ariane 5 from the European spaceport in Kourou in the second half of 2005. In 2006, the purchase of equipment for the ATV flight models no. 4 to no. 7 and the assembly of ATV no. 3 to no. 7 can be effectuated upon a second successful Production Review.

The ATVs are essential in the supply of the ISS with spare parts, food, air and water for its permanent crew. They carry also experiment equipment to the Station and remove waste and material that is not longer needed onboard. Furthermore, the ATVs are capable of pushing the Station to a higher orbit to compensate for the slow but constant altitude loss of the Station resulting from the drag of the residual Earth atmosphere at the altitude of 400 km at which the ISS is flying.

Regarding the initial exploitation activities, the contract allows for a flexible approach that takes into account the evolving needs of the ISS programme. The activities covered by the contract deal with the European experiment facilities for the International Space Station as well as with the experimental programme that will be executed by the astronauts onboard the Station. The contract also covers activities in the fields of the European flight control team and crew training, ground facility maintenance and engineering support for Columbus.

"This contract is a big step forward for Europe in the exploitation of the International Space Station", said Mr Jörg Feustel-BÜechl, ESA Director of Human Spaceflight. "I am very pleased to see this happen, because it demonstrates that Europe is an important and reliable partner in the ISS programme and is able to deliver state-of-the-art space technology, in this case for rendezvous and docking – which is a European first."

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