Page last updated at 23:04 GMT, Tuesday, 16 June 2009 00:04 UK

'Major Tim will get into space'

By Jonathan Amos
Science reporter, BBC News, Le Bourget

Major Tim (BBC)
Major Tim Peake has been attending the Paris air show

The UK astronaut candidate Tim Peake will definitely get into orbit, says space agency boss Jean-Jacques Dordain.

"Major Tim" was selected last month to join Europe's astronaut corps, but launch places will soon reduce with the retirement of the space shuttle.

Concern has been expressed that Europe's six new recruits may struggle to find a ride into orbit.

However, Mr Dordain told the Paris air show that there was no prospect of anyone being left on the ground.

"They will all fly; and this is a commitment we have to them," he told the BBC. "Your British astronaut will fly."

Tim Peake was accepted into the corps in May along with Frenchman Thomas Pesquet, Italians Samantha Cristoforetti and Luca Parmitano, Germany's Alexander Gerst, and Denmark's Andreas Mogensen.

Deals to be made

The group are the first intake at the European Space Agency since 1992. But they come into the organisation just as the spacefaring nations of the world face a bottleneck in launch opportunities.

With the seven-seat shuttle due to be taken out of service next year, it will leave just the three-seat Soyuz available to transfer astronauts to the International Space Station.

The lion's share of those places will go to the big partners on the project - the US and Russia.

It suggests a frustrating future lies ahead for the Esa rookies, even if the serviceability of the ISS is extended to 2025 as is now being discussed. However, Mr Dordain stressed that six new candidates were selected because six new astronauts would be needed.

Europe's membership of the space station "club" entitles it to one six-month residency on the platform every two years. The Esa director general said he was in discussion with the station partners to increase the opportunities.

This included purchasing seats from the Russians that would normally go to their nationals.

"We are working on several tracks," he explained. "Japan and Canada are like us; they are missing some flight opportunities and maybe we can combine our efforts, for example, to buy an additional Soyuz."

New astronaut candidates (Esa)
Mr Dordain said six were selected because six will be needed

As for Major Tim himself, he is revelling in the prospect of his new role, which will take him away from the test pilot job he has with the Anglo-Italian helicopter company AgustaWestland.

"I've had to hand in my notice, of course; I can't go on working for Westland and do Esa," he told BBC News.

"It's all slowly starting to sink in. It's quite funny because after the announcement and a rush of PR, the last few weeks have been work as normal. But then I come here to Le Bourget and I'm hit by the shock of it all again, and I realise there is an exciting adventure ahead."

Major Tim will head to the astronaut training centre in Cologne, Germany, where he starts in September.

He says he wants to continue his links with the Army Air Corps with whom he flew for many years. When he joins Esa full time, Tim hopes to be allowed to link up with the Territorial Army.

It will be three-and-a-half-years at least before the six candidates are considered ready for a mission.

Esa's human spaceflight director Simonetta Di Pippo said the order in which the new recruits got to fly would depend on their performance in training and their particular skill-sets.

"There are many factors," she said. "For one thing, you have to consider the overall crew and they must be compatible with the mission. Some are better than others at robotics; some are very good on spacewalks. The full crew has to have all the capabilities."

Jonathan.Amos-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk



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