Italy was one of the first European nations to operate its own Earth satellite (launched by the US in 1964), and during 1967-1988 the nation conducted nine launches from the San Marco Indian Ocean platform with the assistance of the US. Despite significant achievements in space science, geodesy, and manrated spacecraft modules, Italian progress in space exploration and exploitation has slowed considerably during the 1990's as national fiscal constraints and bureaucratic upheavals have taken their toll.
A governmental reorganization in 1988 established the Italian Space Agency (ASI, Agenzie Spaziale Italiana) under the Ministry of Universities and Scientific and Technological Research (MURST) and its Undersecretary of Space. Beginning in 1992 ASI came under intense scrutiny for its budgetary and program management handlings. Shortly after the appointment of Umberto Colombo to the post of Minister of MURST in May, 1993, ASI's long-time President, Lucianno Guerriero, FIGURE and Director General, Carlo Buongiorno, left the agency. On 1 September 1993, Giampietro Puppi, a past president of ESRO, assumed duties as interim commissioner of ASI. Then, in February, 1994, Giorgio Fiocco, a professor at the University of Rome, was selected as the new president of ASI. Later, Prof. Mario Calamia, was tapped to be ASl's Director General. However, in late September, 1994, the Italian government announced its intention to transfer ASI from MURST to the National Department of Energy and Environment (ENEA)in June, 1995 (References 37-45).
ASI is a relatively small organization with a staff of little more than 100 personnel and headquarters in Rome. The agency's Board of Directors is advised by two 12-person committees: the Scientific Committee and the Technical Committee. To implement the national space program ASI works closely with the University of Rome and the National Research Council. The former, through its Aerospace Research Center, manages the San Marco space launch facility in the Indian Ocean near Kenya. However, relations between ASI and the University of Rome became strained in 1991-1992 over different views concerning the means of improving Italy's space launch capability. No Italian space launches have occurred since 1988 as the nation continues to wrestle with the development of a Scout follow-on. The National Research Council, through its CNUCE institute, supports ASI in areas of mission analysis, mission design, and data handling, and works with Italian aerospace industries.
With assistance from ASI, the Italian government adopts 5-year space plans to establish national goals and for long-range budgeting purposes. The guidelines proposed for the 1990-1994 Italian national space plane included:
- significant importance of fundamental research, toward which 15% of the national financing activity is dedicated, in compliance with the law constituting the ASI...
- strong impetus toward development of industrial type activity...
- reinforcement of initiatives aimed at favoring installation in the South, of new structures having high technological content and with the potential to have a broad impact on the production apparatus...
- consolidation of educational and training activity aimed at the need within the space sector to encourage qualitative growth of the human factor in national enterprises and research structure which, faced with the European reality, are in no way adequate or large enough;
- substantial balancing between national activity and Italian participation in ESA...
- strong characterization at the international level...
- promotion of initiatives tending toward an increasingly efficient coordination with national administrations and agencies dedicated to the fulfillment of operational activity connected with the development of space activities..."
The principal Italian corporation involved in space activities is Alenia Spazio which was formed in 1990 with the merger of Aeritalia and Selenia. The new firm, responsible for approximately 70% of Italy's industrial space activities, is broad-based, supporting both Italian and European programs with spacecraft, subsystems, ground stations, and related software. BPD Difesa E Spazio is Italy's leading company for launch vehicle and spacecraft propulsion.
The 1990-1994 five-year plan had envisioned substantial increases in ASl's annual budget, from 1.0 trillion Lira in 1990 to 2.1 trillion Lira in 1994. However, national fiscal constraints capped the annual allocations to 0.8 trillion Lira for each of 1992, 1993, and 1994, while inflation and the devaluation of the Lira have actually reduced the real value of the budget. To offset both the budget shortfall and the effects of inflation, ASI has been granted the authority to borrow money, e.g. 0.7 trillion Lira for the period 1993-1994. Italian law requires that 15% of the ASI budget be expended for basic scientific research, but in recent years the interpretation of that mandate has led to serious internal governmental disputes. Nearly 50% of the 1994 budget was set aside for space transportation and International Space Station activities in nearly equal amounts. Despite the fact that the proportion of the Italian space budget earmarked for ESA has risen from less than 50% in 1991 to nearly 75% in 1994, Italy has experienced difficulties in meeting its obligations as ESA's third major member. In 1994 ESA agreed to loan funds to Italy in the amount of 0.19 billion Lira over a three-year period (References 46-49).
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