The International Space Station
The International Space Station (ISS) is one of the largest and most ambitious space projects created by Man. ISS is an orbital base for research and for discovery of new knowledge, capabilities and opportunities in Space.
The ISS is being built and assembled as a joint project between the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan and the 11 European Space Agency member countries.
Conceived and initiated in the mid-1980s, America’s large-scale space station became a truly international project in 1993 through an extensive Redesign campaign that joined American, Russian, European and Japanese technologies in Human Space fields. In-orbit assembly began in 1998 with the launch of the Russian Zarya (“dawn”) functional cargo block joined by NODE 1, becoming the first cornerstone of the ISS.
The ISS orbits at an altitude of approximately 340 km above Earth’s surface and travels at an average speed of 27,700 km/h, completing 15 orbits per day. On completion in 2010, the station will weigh over 400 tons and cover an area the size of a football pitch. With a habitable volume in excess of 1,200 m3, it will be the most complex object ever designed to date. More than 40 flights will have been necessary to assemble its 100+ constituent parts.
Thanks to the sophisticated instruments already in use and the others in development phase, the ISS allows scientists to work in microgravity conditions, to conduct medical, physicist and biological research, to create new materials and to carry out technological trials. As a whole, the Space Station itself is a major “experiment”, namely the existing evidence that human life can exist in orbital environments over prolonged periods of time. The construction of this advanced outpost among the stars demonstrates the extraordinary potential of the space sector when institutions and industries can cooperate at the highest levels.
Thales Alenia Space has been involved in the planning and construction of pressurized space modules for thirty years. Today, its industrial contribution, in quantitative terms, to the construction of the International Space Station is outstanding, and it is second only to the prime industrial contractor of the entire orbital complex, the American Boeing.
As one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world, Italy plays a fundamental role and, through Thales Alenia Space, it supplies a volume of production recognized at the international level, contributing more than 50% of the pressurized, thus habitable, volume of the whole Station.
Once completed, the gigantic orbital structure – attached to a long, horizontal beam, onto which two large groups of solar panels will be placed on each extremity, and to a vertical pylon – it will be constituted by habitable modules, some which will be used as laboratories, others as crew accommodation and still others for services and logistics; a sort of futuristic “meccano”, whose spinal cord is composed of the three Nodes. The assembling of the structure is carried out through missions (over fifty) with vectors (Shuttle, Soyuz, etc.) which, launched from the Earth, transport the modules, to the correct orbit of an average altitude of 350 km.
Following the 7 successful MPLM missions started with the LEONARDO maiden flight in March 2001 ,the last two years have been very important for the continuation of the work on the Space Station and have witnessed the culmination of efforts of over 10 years of work of Thales Alenia Space. Several modules produced by the Italian-French company were launched during this period: Two MPLM missions , NODE 2 Harmony , ATV Jules Verne, and Columbus with payload EDR (European Drawer Rack), FSL (Fluid Science Laboratory) and SOLAR (external payload of research).