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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Germany Nears ISS Extension Agreement

PARIS — German space agency DLR has approved a program plan for 2011 featuring new in-orbit servicing, broadband technology and methane-monitoring missions, as well as additional funding for the International Space Station (ISS), the Ariane 5 launch system and a European relay satellite system.
The plan reflects the priorities of a new strategic space plan, unveiled late last year, and Germany’s commitment to increase financial support for space activities. This year’s budget will make around €1.25 billion ($1.7 billion) available for space spending, up from €1.2 billion last year, DLR head Johann-Dietrich Woerner said on Jan. 27.
In an address Jan. 26, Woerner said the agency approved the launch of three new projects this year — DEOS, a mission to test the ability to service and de-orbit satellites that fail in orbit; Heinrich Hertz, a demonstrator intended to evaluate broadband communications technologies; and Merlin, a joint mission with France that is designed to monitor methane emissions in the atmosphere.
Merlin is fully agreed to and budgeted, and Heinrich Hertz is defined and ready to start, except for the secondary science payload, Woerner says. Merlin is to be orbited in 2014 and Heinrich Hertz in 2015. Some aspects of the in-orbit servicing mission — a high-risk undertaking, currently in Phase B detailed definition, for which a convincing business case has yet to be made — may also still have to be settled, and no launch date has yet been set. “But we believe we have unique robotics know-how that will allow us to do it,” Woerner says.
In addition, DLR has agreed to operate Sweden’s Prisma formation-flying mission to gain more rendezvous and docking expertise. And a technology satellite, known as TET, designed to test new attitude control software, onboard data management subsystem and other satellite components, will be launched on March 19.
Woerner says DLR also has come to an agreement in principle with other European Space Agency (ESA) member states to proceed with development of the European Data Relay Satellite (EDRS) system, even though an ESA board meeting on Jan. 25 failed to secure sufficient funding to launch the program. The agreement would entail adding one or more hosted payloads, probably in communications, to the dedicated satellite that will comprise the two-spacecraft system in order to attract other countries to back the initiative.
Germany has committed the biggest share in the €270 million mission, which will be operated by EADS Astrium and use an OHB System bus and optical relay supplied by Tesat Spacecom. Contract signature is imminent, Woerner says (Aerospace DAILY, Jan. 18).
The DLR chief executive also confirms statements earlier this week by Yannick d’Escatha, head of French space agency CNES, that Germany and France have come to agreement on how to reorganize Europe’s increasingly uncompetitive launch sector and finance a five-year life extension of the ISS. In a head-to-head meeting in December, the two nations “made a giant leap forward” on the two issues, Woerner says, and are now “very close to a joint position ... that resolves both issues in parallel.”
Paris and Berlin are “not far away” from agreeing on a new price support mechanism for Arianespace — a top French priority — although the figure may vary somewhat from the €120 million-per-year target that had been set (Aerospace DAILY, Jan. 27). They favor keeping the current mixed public-private shareholding structure for now, but with far more transparency, reserving the right to modify it later.
In return, Germany will get strong support for the ISS extension — a chief German objective — although not as much as the €380 million per year it had sought.

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