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ISS Structure

The International Space Station is a space station in low Earth orbit. The ISS programme is a joint project between five participating space agencies: Roscosmos, NASA, JAXA, ESA and CSA. The ownership and use of the space station is established by intergovernmental treaties and agreements.

The ISS serves as a microgravity and space environment research laboratory in which crew members conduct experiments in biology, human biology, physics, astronomy, meteorology, and other fields. The station is suited for the testing of spacecraft systems and equipment required for missions to the Moon and Mars.

The ISS maintains an orbit with an average altitude of 420 kilometres by means of reboost manoeuvres using the engines of the Zvezda module or visiting spacecraft. It circles the Earth in roughly 92 minutes and completes 15.5 orbits per day.

International Space Station

Pressurised modules

  • Zarya was the first module of the International Space Station to be launched.The FGB was funded by NASA and built and launched by Russia, and provided electrical power, storage, propulsion, and guidance to the ISS during the initial stage of assembly. With the launch and assembly in orbit of other modules with more specialised functionality, Zarya is now primarily used for storage, both inside the pressurised section and in the externally mounted fuel tanks. Zarya is a descendant of the TKS spacecraft designed for the Soviet Salyut programme. The name Zarya was given to the FGB because it signified the dawn of a new era of international co-operation in space.
  • Unity is one of three nodes, or passive connecting modules, in the US Orbital Segment of the station. It was the first US-built component of the Station to be launched. The module is made of stainless steel and aluminum, and cylindrical in shape, with six berthing locations facilitating connections to other modules.  Essential space station resources such as fluids, environmental control and life support systems, electrical and data systems are routed through Unity to supply work and living areas of the station. More than 50,000 mechanical items, 216 lines to carry fluids and gases, and 121 internal and external electrical cables using six miles of wire were installed in the Unity node.
  • Zvezda. Early in the station’s life, Zvezda provided all of its critical systems. It made the station permanently habitable for the first time, adding life support for up to six crew and living quarters for two. Zvezda’s DMS-R computer handles guidance, navigation and control for the entire space station.
  • Pirs. Pirs and Poisk are Russian airlock modules, each having 2 identical hatches. An outward-opening hatch on the Mir space station failed after it swung open too fast after unlatching, because of a small amount of air pressure remaining in the airlock.  All EVA hatches on the ISS open inwards and are pressure-sealing. Pirs was used to store, service, and refurbish Russian Orlan suits and provided contingency entry for crew using the slightly bulkier American suits. The outermost docking ports on both airlocks allow docking of Soyuz and Progress spacecraft, and the automatic transfer of propellants to and from storage on the ROS.
  • Tranquility is the third and last of the station’s US nodes, it contains an additional life support system to recycle waste water for crew use and supplements oxygen generation. Like the other US nodes, it has six berthing mechanisms, five of which are currently in use.  The first one connects to the station’s core via the Unity module, others host the Cupola, the PMA docking port #3, the Leonardo PMM and the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module. The final zenith port remains free.
  • Kibō is a laboratory and the largest ISS module. It is used for research in space medicine, biology, Earth observations, materials production, biotechnology and communications, and has facilities for growing plants and fish. The MAXI observatory is mounted on Kibō and uses the ISS’s orbital motion to image the whole sky in the X-ray spectrum. During August 2011, the moment when a star was swallowed by a black hole was detected for the first time. The laboratory contains 23 racks, including 10 experiment racks, and has a dedicated airlock for experiments.
  • Cupola is a seven-window observatory that is used to view Earth and docking spacecraft. Its name means “dome” in Italian. The Cupola project was started by NASA and Boeing, but was cancelled due to budget cuts. A barter agreement with NASA led to ESA resuming development in 1998, with construction by Thales Alenia Space in Turin, Italy.  The module comes equipped with workstations for operating the station’s main robotic arm and shutters to protect its windows from damage caused by micrometeorites. It features 7 windows, with an 80-centimetre round window, the largest window flown in space to date.
  • Rassvet is similar in design to the Mir Docking Module launched on STS-74 in 1995. Rassvet is primarily used for cargo storage and for docking by visiting spacecraft. It was flown to the ISS aboard NASA’s Space Shuttle Atlantis on the STS-132 mission and connected in May 2010, Rassvet is the only Russian-owned module launched by NASA, to repay for the launch of Zarya, which is Russian designed and built, but partially paid for by NASA. Rassvet was launched with the Russian Nauka laboratory’s experiments airlock temporarily attached to it, and spare parts for the European Robotic Arm.
  • Destiny is the primary research facility for United States payloads aboard the ISS. The module houses 24 International Standard Payload Racks, some of which are used for environmental systems and crew’s daily living equipment. Destiny also serves as the mounting point for the station’s Truss Structure.
  • Quest is the only USOS airlock, hosting spacewalks with both United States EMU and Russian Orlan spacesuits. It consists of two segments: the equipment lock, which stores spacesuits and equipment, and the crew lock, from which astronauts can exit into space.  This module has a separately controlled atmosphere and is where crew sleep the night before scheduled EVAs. A low nitrogen mixture allows them to avoid decompression sickness in the low-pressure suits.
  • Harmony is the second of the station’s node modules and the utility hub of the USOS. The module contains four racks that provide electrical power, bus electronic data, and acts as a central connecting point for several other components via its six Common Berthing Mechanisms. The European Columbus and Japanese Kibō laboratories are permanently berthed to the starboard and port radial ports respectively. The nadir and zenith ports can be used for docking visiting spacecraft including HTV, Dragon, and Cygnus, with the nadir port serving as the primary docking port. US Shuttle Orbiters docked with the ISS via PMA-2, attached to the forward port.
  • Columbus is the primary research facility for European payloads aboard the ISS, providing modular laboratory spaces as well as facilities specifically designed for biology, biomedical research and fluid physics. Several mounting locations are affixed to the exterior of the module, providing power and data to external experiments such as the European Technology Exposure Facility (EuTEF), Solar Monitoring Observatory, Materials International Space Station Experiment, and Atomic Clock Ensemble in Space. In 2008, a number of expansions were planned for the module to study quantum physics and cosmology. ESA’s development of technologies on all the main areas of life support has been ongoing for more than 20 years and are/have been used in modules such as Columbus and the ATV.
  • Leonardo Permanent Multipurpose Module is a storage module attached to the Tranquility node. The three NASA Space Shuttle MPLM cargo containers—Leonardo, Raffaello and Donatello—were built for NASA in Turin, Italy by Alcatel Alenia Space, now Thales Alenia Space.  The MPLMs were provided to NASA’s ISS programme by Italy  and are considered to be US elements. In a bartered exchange for providing these containers, the US gave Italy research time aboard the ISS out of the US allotment in addition to that which Italy receives as a member of ESA. The Permanent Multipurpose Module was created by converting Leonardo into a module that could be permanently attached to the station.
  • Bigelow Expandable Activity Module is a prototype inflatable space habitat that was launched on a two-year technology demonstration. It was built by Bigelow Aerospace under a contract established by NASA on 16 January 2013. BEAM was delivered to the ISS aboard SpaceX CRS-8 on 10 April 2016, was berthed to the aft port of the Tranquility node on 16 April, and was fully expanded on 28 May. During its two-year test run, instruments are measuring its structural integrity and leak rate, along with temperature and radiation levels. The hatch leading into the module remains closed except for periodic visits by space station crew members for inspections and data collection.