In closing down its ATV cargo freighter assembly line, Europe considers its next manned space project.
ESA and NASA have been discussing how ESA might compensate NASA for Europe’s 8.3 percent share of the international space station’s future operating charges. Until about 2017, the agency is repaying NASA, as the station’s general contractor, through launches of European Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) cargo ships to the station. But with the station partners now all but committed to operating the station at least through 2020, ESA is searching for another “barter element” to succeed ATV.
NASA has said a propulsion module for the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle would fill ESA’s obligations to NASA, which have been estimated at about 450 million euros ($600 million) over three years.
But several ESA members, notably France and Italy, have argued that the Orion module, which would use ATV-derived technologies, does not provide sufficient technology interest or public impact. Instead, these governments have proposed development of a vehicle that would perform multiple tasks in low Earth orbit, including debris removal.