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ESA Awards Two Contracts for LEO Cargo Return Service

Credit: Thales Alenia Space / ESA

Ibadan, 24 May 2024. – The European Space Agency (ESA) has signed two contracts with Thales Alenia Space and The Exploration Company for the development of a commercial service capable of transporting cargo to and from the International Space Station (ISS) in low Earth orbit by 2030. ESA Director-General Josef Aschbacher signed contracts with Hélène Huby from The Exploration Company and Massimo Comparini from Thales Alenia Space, to develop a low Earth orbit cargo return service.

ESA Member States launched this competition for European industry at the Space Summit in November, asking companies to propose a first step towards a cargo service to and from space stations in low Earth orbit, such as the ISS. Six months later, after evaluating several proposals from European companies, ESA has consequently selected two projects that will go ahead in the competition, awarding 25 million euros of funding to each to support them in developing the cargo service.

The selected companies will continue working on their projects with ESA’s support in the first phase of this competition. Furthermore, ESA will present its proposal for the remaining phases of the competition to its Member States for approval at the Ministerial Council in 2025. Europe currently relies on its international partners to bring its cargo and crew to space, providing in exchange key contributions to international space projects, such as the Columbus Laboratory, or the European Service Modules.

Speaking on the contracts, ESA Director of Human and Robotic Exploration, Daniel Neuenschwander said, “The LEO Cargo Return Service project exemplifies ESA’s commitment to ensuring Europe’s prominent role in space exploration. It prepares us for the post-ISS era, strengthening European industry’s competitiveness in low Earth orbit operations, as well as being a test case for the ESA transformation and working differently.”

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