ESA dumps Airbus

Sole administration of European ISS operations have been taken from Airbus Defence and Space (ADS) and redistributed in a bid to lower costs and improve efficiency. Instead, ESA has taken over a large amount of this work themselves and re-distributed the remainder among three contractors, in which ADS does get a small package of work.

Previously ESA had been running the ISS with two-year contracts awarded to ADS, the last one covering the period December 2013 to December 2015 being for €195million. The preceding two-year contract had been for €233million but ADS and ESA together responded to wide concerns about the cost of the International Space Station and its operations and managed to get that down by 30%.

Under the new arrangement, three contractors will receive a total €132million, of which €88million goes to ADS, €25million goes to Altec of Turin, Italy, and €19million goes to the German aerospace centre DLR. ADS had been managing 40 companies in 10 countries partially through subcontracts to both Altec and DLR.

Currently ESA pays for its ISS work through two channels. One channel covers European experiments and equipment carried to the station for research purposes. The other channel covers the 8.3% which ESA pays as a partner in the ISS programme, an amount set when the station agreement was amended in the 1990s after the Russians joined the programme.

It currently costs €1.8billion ($1.96billion) a year to operate the ISS so the 8.3% contributed by Europe amounts to almost €150million. It was agreed that some of this would be compensated by work-in-kind and this covered the utilisation of the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), of which five were launched, the last covering ESA contributions to the end of 2017.

Changes within ESA are necessary to cap rising costs in several other programmes. Work on robotic exploration has been moved from its science directorate to the space station directorate and by taking on work previously done by ADS this has helped to compensate for layoffs which would otherwise have been incurred by these changes.

As reported on this website and in the next issue of Spaceflight, ESA is undecided whether to maintain its involvement with the ISS beyond 2020, that decision being due in December. At present the European Service Module for the first flight of NASA’s Orion spacecraft on its Space Launch System is being fabricated in Europe. If Europe remains in the ISS programme and supports it through to 2024 that will place ESA in a much better position to received additional contracts for ESMs for more Orion missions.

David Baker










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