March 31, 2009 / 12:45 PM / 10 years ago

EADS seeks to build more unmanned space vehicles

LES MUREAUX, France, March 31 (Reuters) - Astrium, the space unit of European aerospace group EADS EAD.PA, said on Tuesday it was seeking support to build two extra resupply vehicles worth 400 million euros for the International Space Station.

The first ATV, or Automated Transfer Vehicle, docked with the orbital outpost in April last year in a breakthrough for the western European space programme.

The unmanned freighter vehicles are expected to fill a gap in transport after U.S. space shuttles are taken out of service in 2010, with a new generation of U.S. spacecraft due in 2015.

The European Space Agency has ordered four more ATVs to be launched between early 2010 and 2015.

Astrium said it had filed a proposal to raise the total number of vehicles, worth some 200 million euros each, to six.

It hopes that ESA will decide it needs the extra vessels in the event that the life of the space laboratory is extended.

The 10-year-old international space station, the largest ever man-made object in space, is currently expected to remain in operation until the middle of next decade.

“We have sent ESA an offer to build two extra ATVs,” Alain Charmeau, head of Astrium Space Transportation, told reporters, adding he expected to get a response by the end of 2009.

ESA was not immediately available to comment.

Ministers from the 18-nation ESA agreed in November to develop a new version of the ATV that would return cargo from the space station to Earth without burning up in the atmosphere.

U.S. space shuttle Discovery ended a 13-day mission to the International Space Station on Saturday after equipping the station with a new set of solar panel wings [ID:nN28293901]. (Reporting by Matthias Blamont; Writing by Tim Hepher; Editing by Greg Mahlich)

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