Astrium will study ways to use the technology it helped develop for Europe’s Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) and Columbus laboratory module under two €6.5 million ($8 million) contracts from the European Space Agency (ESA).

Results of the work, set to run until the end of 2012, will support decisions on the development of future European space vehicles at the ESA ministerial meeting in November.

One study will examine ways the technology from the two spacecraft — one a pressurized module on the International Space Station (ISS) and the other the largest supply vehicle now serving the orbiting laboratory — can lead to a follow-on European autonomous spacecraft with “intrinsic versatility,” Astrium says. Among possible directions are transportation to low Earth orbit infrastructure, in-orbit servicing of other spacecraft and removal of orbital debris, and missions to support an autonomous, free-flying habitat.

The other will examine how ATV and Columbus technology can be applied to the service module of NASA’s planned Orion multipurpose crew vehicle, a deep-space human exploration spacecraft under development by prime contractor Lockheed Martin.

The latter idea already has run into political snags in Europe, where ESA needs hardware to barter with NASA for time on the ISS. Building a relatively simple component to handle propulsion and perhaps avionics for a NASA human capsule has been termed a “negative application” of ESA’s technical skills by Enrico Saggese, head of the Italian Space Agency ASI. This is a view echoed by Yannick d’Escatha, who leads the French space agency CNES.

Johann-Dietrich Woerner, head of the German Aerospace Center DLR, has said one solution could be development of “a multifunctional barter element that can work in the different areas” (Aerospace DAILY, April 2, Feb. 16).