ESA signed an agreement today with 11 European space companies* to promote the commercial utilisation of the International Space Station (ISS) in Europe. The agreement is non-exclusive and allows other Strategic Partners, who can offer value-added services to commercial users the possibility to join the cooperation.

The primary objective of the cooperation agreement is to facilitate the access of commercial customers to the ISS. A variety of measures will be implemented by ESA in partnership with the cooperating space companies to raise the awareness of the commercial utilisation opportunities available to customers as well as support utilisation projects presented by early customers. Markets depending on research in biotechnology, the development of new materials and energy saving systems will be specifically targeted.

Commenting on the signature of the agreement, Jorg Feustel-Buechl, ESA Director for Manned Spaceflight and Microgravity said, “the cooperation agreement between ESA and our Strategic Partners in industry forms the foundation for a true partnership between the public and private sectors. With the complementary skills of ESA and our Partners we are now in a very good position to optimize the services we can offer to those customers who recognize the unique utilisation opportunities of the International Space Station.”

The ISS is a multi-disciplinary laboratory in space, currently manned by a permanent crew of 3 astronauts, and is being developed and operated in partnership between 10 European States (represented by ESA), the United States, Russia, Japan and Canada. It provides a variety of utilisation opportunities in the domains of applied research in life and physical sciences, technology development and space-based services for communications and Earth observation. ESA has allocated about 1/3 of its resources on-board the ISS to commercial utilisation including activities in the domains of sponsorship, media, education and entertainment. The first European commercial project will be operating on-board the ISS in April 2002 and others are in preparation.

The cooperating space companies play a significant role in the development and operations of the European elements contributed by ESA to the ISS, such as the Columbus laboratory and the Automated Transfer Vehicle. They are therefore in a unique position to contribute to the development of competitive utilisation services for future customers.