Italy’s New Space Chief Seeks To Close the Chapter on Corruption

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COLOGNE, Germany — The new president of the Italian Space Agency (ASI) said the agency’s strategy and budget are stabilizing after months of upheaval following allegations of corruption in agency contract awards and the forced resignation of the previous ASI president.

Physics professor Roberto Battiston, in his first public remarks outside Italy after assuming his post May 17, said Italy will push for upgrades to the Italian-led Vega small-satellite launcher when European governments meet in December to determine future launcher strategy and contributions to the international space station.

Addressing the Space Propulsion 2014 conference in Cologne, Germany, May 19, Battiston, who was a prime mover in the international Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer delivered to the international space station in 2011, said Italy would also seek assurances at the December meeting that the two-part ExoMars mission to Mars receives sufficient financial backing.

The 20-nation European Space Agency has secured the funding needed for ExoMars’ launch in 2016 but is still short of what is needed to pay for the 2018 mission, which includes a rover vehicle. Both missions are being conducted in partnership with Russia, which is providing Proton rockets for the two launches.

ASI is a 30 percent shareholder in ELV SpA, which is prime contractor for the Vega rocket. ESA is considering a series of upgrades to Vega, many of them complementary to work proposed on a next-generation Ariane 6 rocket. Vega and Ariane 6, as currently designed, use mainly solid-propellant stages, permitting synergies in the production of the two vehicles.

Battiston did not disclose Italy’s planned space spending, which has been a subject of concern in Germany and France, as well as at ESA, given Italy’s importance not only in ESA’s launcher program, but also with respect to the international space station.

German government officials have complained that Italy’s reduced space station contribution, decided in late 2012, left Germany carrying a larger share of station expenses and must be reversed.

Battiston said Italy views ExoMars, Vega upgrades, the space station and Ariane rocket investments as different elements of an ESA program that will be decided “as a single, package deal.”

Battiston said whatever launch vehicle decisions are made, European governments should in the future be relieved of the obligation to make annual price-support payments for rockets once the vehicles have entered their commercial production rhythm.

 

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