At a two-day meeting in Lucerne, Switzerland, the European Space Agency’s 22 member states approved a commitment to extend European participation in the International Space Station program to 2024. ESA is the final partner agency to do so.
“I’m excited all the International Space Station partners have now joined us in committing to [the] operation of this invaluable resource through at least 2024,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in a statement on ESA’s commitment. “The European Space Agency contributions to station are essential, and we look forward to continuing to work with ESA, the Canadian Space Agency, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and Roscosmos for extended operations, and to collaborating with other nations to push the boundaries of human exploration, and extend our reach farther into the Solar System as part of the ongoing Journey to Mars.”
Funding for ESA’s extension will amount to about 807 million euros ($861 million) on usage and 153 million euros ($163 million) for science projects involving the space station. This will also allow for more ESA astronauts to visit the ISS.
According to Space News, ESA is currently building the service module for the EM-1 Orion spacecraft in a bid to offset its 8.3 percent annual share of the station’s common operating costs through 2020. With the recent decision to extend ISS operation to 2024, this means Europe will build a second service module.
The station’s notional end-of-mission was originally planned for this year, 2016. However, soon after station assembly was completed in 2011, the ISS partners quickly agreed to extend the operation of the outpost through 2020.
By 2014, the White House signaled it wanted NASA to continue operating the space station through at least 2024. Over the next two years, each partner agency has committed to do the same, with ESA being the last.
Both the Russian Energia and American Boeing companies, the prime contractors for much of the ISS hardware, are currently assessing if the station can be safely operated through at least 2028. Some of the modules have been in orbit since 1998 and 2000. It remains to be seen if the international partners will commit through the end of the 2020s.
Additionally, NASA has been discussing the possibility of handing over operation of the outpost to a private organization by 2024 in a bid to save money. How realistic this would be is unclear as NASA spends some $4 billion each year on operating costs and transportation – 20 percent of the agency’s budget.
NOTE: While this article was written by Derek Richardson, it was originally published at SpaceFlight Insider. Feel free to head over there to read all the stuff they write about!