Cupola: a window over the Earth
The Cupola is an ESA's contribution to the space station assembly.
Developed and built by Thales Alenia Space in Italy, Cupola is a spectacular technological, robotised control room, which will allow the astronauts to see and work through seven windows, looking out 360° around the International Space Station. It will be attached to the Node 3 Tranquility, also developed by Thales Alenia Space, and will be used as a flight control center for the ISS during spacewalks, spacecraft maneuvers or work requiring the station's robotic arm. It should last about 10 years in orbit.
The Cupola is 6.5 feet wide (2 meters) , 4,9 feet high (1.5 meters) and with a diameter of 9,7 feet (3 meters). The dome-like Cupola is forged from a single 1.8-ton chunk of aluminum with slots for six trapezoid-shaped windows and one large circular view port that will be the largest window to fly in space when launched. It comprises a set of external shutters - one per window - clamps over the view ports to protect the glass from micrometeorite impacts and to prevent solar radiation from heating up the Cupola. The shutters are also designed to help maintain the temperature within the ISS. The shutters can be opened by the crew inside the Cupola with the simple turn of a wrist.
Each window has three subsections: an inner scratch pane to protect the so-called pressure panes from accidental damage from inside the Cupola; two 25 mm-thick pressure panes to help maintain the cabin pressure and environment (the outer pane is a back-up for the inner pane); and a debris pane on the outside to protect the pressure panes from space debris when the Cupola shutters are open.
Up to two station crewmembers can sit inside the Cupola to monitor spacecraft docking and undocking, or - once larger crews return the ISS - support spacewalking astronauts outside.
Cupola’s internal layout is dominated by upper and lower handrails around the inside of its cabin supporting most of the equipment and by ‘close-out’ panels, which cover the harness and water lines attached to the Cupola. These internal panels form a pressurized air distribution system with the outer structure. These panels are removable to allow inspection and connection of different utilities.