At a ceremony to be held at Alenia Spazio in Turin, Italy, on Friday 14 April, in the presence of the ESA Director General Antonio Rodotà and Italian Space Agency (ASI) President Sergio de Julio, the Columbus flight structure will be handed over to ESA by ASI. On the same occasion, the Environmental Control and Life Support Subsystem (ECLSS) ownership transfer from ESA to ASI will be formalised.

Columbus, the cornerstone of ESA’s contribution to the International Space Station, which is currently being assembled in orbit, is a scientific laboratory scheduled for launch in 2004. Astronauts from Europe and elsewhere will be able to use it to conduct material sciences, medicine, biology and technology experiments, many eventually leading to benefits in commercial processes or everyday life on Earth.

The Environmental Control and Life Support Subsystem, composed of fans, heat exchangers, sensors, and motorised and pneumatic valves, all operated and monitored via the onboard computer, provides comfortable working conditions inside the space laboratories. In particular the system controls temperature, humidity and ventilation, regulates atmospheric pressure, detects fire and monitors contamination of the living environment.

Prior to the ESA Council meeting at ministerial level in Toulouse in November 1995, it had seemed that approval of European participation in the ISS would be impossible to obtain, due to the excessive price of the proposed programme. In mid-1994, ESA had embarked on a serious “design-to-cost” exercise to revive the programme. The main thrust of this effort was to make Columbus a four-rack module, similar in length to the ASI Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM), in order to radically reduce the programmeís design and operational costs.

In the second half of 1994, and into 1995, ESA and ASI reached an agreement whereby they would co-operate both generally on the development of pressurised modules and specifically on two particular cases. The essence of this agreement was that:

  • ESA would design and verify an Environmental Control and Life Support Subsystem which would satisfy the requirements of both the MPLM and the Columbus laboratory, and would deliver to ASI engineering models, three sets of flight hardware, some spares and the ground support equipment for the MPLM. ESA would then use this equipment for its Columbus module.


  • ASI, which was already developing the MPLM, would supply ESA with a flight unit primary structure for Columbus based on that of the MPLM, and would provide the MPLM qualification data to enable ESA to qualify Columbus on the basis of commonality, thereby avoiding the need for a separate qualification test model.

Thanks to this agreement, both Agencies would avoid duplicating high development costs and would help save roughly EUR 70 million of taxpayersí money. Further reductions arising from the downsizing of the Columbus laboratory enabled the Columbus part of the ESA ISS development programme to be literally halved in price, down to approximately EUR 700 million. On that basis, the ministers responsible for space, gathered in Toulouse in November 1995, were able to approve the overall ISS programme.

Alenia Spazio, as MPLM prime contractor, manufactured the structure and performed ECLSS integration for the Multi-Purpose Logistics Module under ASI contract; DASA-Dornier, as the ECLSS subcontractor for Columbus, was entrusted with ECLSS development and verification under a contract with ESA. The industrial activities were jointly controlled by ESA and ASI.

In addition to these specific joint developments, further synergies were found. Alenia Spazio became the prime contractor for ISS nodes 2 and 3, a contract managed by ASI on behalf of ESA, the price of which is being used to offset the launch costs of the Columbus laboratory by NASA’s Space Shuttle. European industry is thus developing hardware for the station using ESA funds, rather than ESA paying NASA in dollars for the launch of Columbus.

Alenia Spazio is also the contractor for the pressurised module part of the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), which, launched atop Ariane-5, will be used as a "ferry" vehicle for payload, propellant, fresh food and general provisions.

This agreement has also fostered an increasing use of common subcontractors (and hence common design principles) for the Columbus and node harnesses and Mechanical Ground Support Equipment (OHB, Germany) and Thermal Control Subsystems (Microtecnica, Italy), further improving the cost-efficiency of European human spaceflight projects. These synergies will continue into the operational phase, in terms of integration, payload operation and logistics activities.

In the last few weeks, the final ECLSS equipment and the Columbus primary structure have been delivered. Much of the ECLSS hardware is already at NASA/KSC awaiting the first launch of the MPLM Leonardo, currently planned for February 2001, but several tons of ECLSS and structure equipment can still be viewed in Turin, together with other elements of ASI and Alenia Spazio’s contribution to the development of the International Space Station.

Media representatives wishing to attend the event are kindly requested to fill out the attached form and fax it back to: Franca Morgia, ESA/ESRIN Communication Division,

Fax.: +39(0)6.9418.0952.

For further information, please contact:

Franco Bonacina/ ESA, Paris Franca Morgia/ESA/ESRIN, Rome

Tel.: + 33.(0) Tel.: + 39.(0)6.9418.0951

Fax: +33.(0) Fax: +39(0)6.9418.0952

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Francesco Rea/ASI Viviana Panaccia/GiancarloFre/Alenia Spazio

Tel.: +39(0)6.4425.9571 Tel.: + 39(0)6.4151.4130

Fax: +39(0)6.4425.9572 Fax: +39(0)6.4151.4252

More on ASI at More on Alenia Spazio at

Event: Handover of the Columbus flight structure to ESA by ASI

Alenia Spazio/Turin

Friday 14 April 2000


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