The International Space Station: Technical Aspects

The International Space Station: Technical Aspects

Chris Nie (Lockheed Martin, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7256-5.ch006
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A new era of spaceflight dawned following the conclusion of the United States and Russian space race. This new era has been marked by the design, assembly, and operation of one of the greatest engineering feats mankind has accomplished, the International Space Station (ISS). The ISS is comprised of hundreds of thousands of kilograms of material built on the ground and transported to space for assembly. It houses an artificial atmosphere to sustain life in outer space and has been continually inhabited for over 15 years. This chapter describes the technical complexity of the ISS, the background of how it was assembled, its major systems, details of crew life onboard, commercial usage of the resource, and examples of mishaps that have occurred during the ISS's operation. The technical details of the ISS provide a glimpse into what future space stations that might orbit the Moon and Mars will resemble.
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The ISS currently orbits Earth at approximately 400 kilometres altitude, traveling at more than 7.5 kilometres a second, completing a full orbit around the globe every 90 minutes. It has been continuously inhabited by humans since November of 2000 and has been visited by more than 230 people from 18 countries as of November 2018. Taking up an area of 51 by 109 meters and having a mass of 420,000 kilograms, it can nearly cover a football pitch and is more massive than 320 automobiles. It contains 388 cubic meters of liveable volume and produces an average of 84 kilowatts for crews that vary between 3 and 6 normally, with a record of 13 for a short duration in July of 2009 (Moskowitz, 2009).

The orbiting station has been built to be a stepping stone to humanity’s exploration of our solar system. Its primary purpose is to serve as a laboratory to study what happens to humans, plants, and technology that undergo long duration spaceflight. To accomplish this mission, the ISS was built over the course of 15 years with subsystems designed to keep humans and experiments happy and healthy while on-board.

The United States Congress designated the ISS a U.S. National Laboratory in 2005 in order to enable space research and development and increase access to conduct experiments on the ISS for commercial, academic, and government users. This designation led to the development of the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, or CASIS, that manages the U.S. National Laboratory on the ISS. This effort, in addition to the experiments flown prior to CASIS and by other countries, has enabled over 2,400 experiments or investigations as of September 2017 to be conducted on-board, covering disciplines including: biology and biotechnology, earth and space science, educational and cultural activities, human research, physical science, and technology development and demonstration (National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 2018).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Microgravity: The condition in which people or objects appear to be weightless.

International Space Station: A habitable artificial satellite built by member nations that conducts testing for future space technologies and microgravity research for Earth-based science.

Journey to Mars: Plan that outlines goals in the bipartisan NASA Authorization Act of 2010 and in the U.S. National Space Policy, also issued in 2010 to develop the capabilities needed to send humans to Mars in the 2030s.

Space Mishaps: Accidents or incidents that have occurred during human spaceflight.

Human Spaceflight: Space travel with crew or passengers aboard the spacecraft.

Life Science: A branch of science that focuses on the study of organisms. Research in this area occurs in space to determine the response of organisms in the microgravity environment.

Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS): Manager of the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory with the goal to ensure the ISS is fully utilized to benefit life on Earth.

Environmental Control and Life Support System: The collection of components designed and built to measure and maintain the necessary habitat to support life in human spaceflight.

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