International space station

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International space station


ISS with ATV-2 on March 7, 2011, captured from the Space Shuttle Discovery

ISS with ATV-2 on March 7, 2011, captured from the Space Shuttle Discovery

Span: 109 m
Length: Hull: 51 m
Solar modules: 73 m
Volume: 916 m 3
Dimensions: 420 t
Apogee height : 320-430 km
Perigee height : 320-410 km
Orbit inclination : 51.6 °
Orbital time : approx. 93 min
COSPAR designation : 1998-067A
power supply
Electrical power: 84 kW
Solar cell area: 4500 m 2
Flight statistics measured against Zarya , current status
Time in orbit: 8277 days
Manned since: 7564 days
Current crew of ISS Expedition 65
Rescue ships: Soyuz MS-18
SpaceX Crew-2
The current occupation

Left to right:

RussiaRussia Pyotr Dubrow (since April 9, 2021) Shane Kimbrough (since April 24, 2021) Megan McArthur (since April 24, 2021) Thomas Pesquet (since April 24, 2021) Akihiko Hoshide (since April 24, 2021), Commander Oleg Nowizki ( since April 9, 2021) Mark Vande Hei (since April 9, 2021)
United StatesUnited States
United StatesUnited States
United StatesUnited States

Existing modules of the ISS and those yet to be started, without planned US modules

Existing modules of the ISS and those yet to be started, without planned US modules

The International Space Station ( English International Space Station , short ISS , Russian Междунаро́дная косми́ческая ста́нция (МКС) , Meschdunarodnaja kosmitscheskaja stanzija (MKS) ) is the largest and most durable space station to date . Initially planned as a military station by the USA, it has been operated and further developed since the start of its construction in 1998 in international cooperation with 16 states and 5 space agencies. It is the largest satellite in Earth orbit and the largest man-made object in space. The costs for construction and operation amounted to more than 100 billion euros by 2018.

The ISS circles the earth at an altitude of around 400 km with an orbit inclination of 51.6 ° in an easterly direction within around 93 minutes. In the case of solar modules aligned at right angles , it has a spatial dimension of around 109 m × 51 m × 73 m and its mass is around 420  t . Since November 2, 2000 , the ISS has been permanently inhabited by space travelers.

Participating countries

Agreement between the participating States in the International Space Station Program , signed January 28, 1998

The ISS is a joint project of the US space agency NASA , the Russian space agency Roskosmos , the European space agency ESA and Canada's space agencies CSA and Japan's JAXA . In Europe, the countries Belgium , Denmark , Germany , France , Italy , the Netherlands , Norway , Sweden , Switzerland , Spain and the United Kingdom are involved. In 1998 a corresponding agreement for the construction of the space station was signed.

Brazil has a separate agreement with the USA on the use of the ISS. The People's Republic of China expressed its wish to participate in the ISS, but failed because of the US veto and has since operated two of its own space stations ( Tiangong 1 and Tiangong 2 ), a third is being set up.


The first initiatives for a permanently inhabited station in space came up very early at NASA. At the beginning of the 1960s, long before the first moon landing, people thought of a space station that would be inhabited by about ten to twenty people. After the completion of the Apollo program , the focus was more specifically on the construction of space stations in order not to lose touch with the Soviet Union , which launched its first space station in 1971 with Salyut 1 . In 1973, for example, the US station Skylab was started and was inhabited for a total of 171 days. After that, however, the Americans turned to the development of the space shuttle , while the Soviet Union put six more Salyut stations and above all the modular Mir space station into orbit and gained extensive experience with long-term stays in space .

After the first flight of the space shuttle in 1981, the concept of a space station came back into focus because, in the opinion of NASA strategists, this would be the next logical step in space travel. In May 1982, the Space Station Task Force was created at NASA headquarters . In January 1984, the then US President Ronald Reagan , following Kennedy's call for a moon landing, announced that the national goal was to build a permanently manned space station within a decade. The cost of such a station was then estimated at eight billion US dollars. A year later it was decided to build the station together with international partners. As a result, ESA, Canada and Japan joined the project. In 1988 the planned Reagan station was christened Freedom .

After the end of the Cold War , closer cooperation between NASA and Russia became possible. The original Freedom project was cut because the cost of the planned space station exploded and renamed Space Station Alpha . In 1993, Russia and the United States signed an agreement for ten shuttle flights to the Russian Mir space station and long-term stays for some US astronauts on the Mir, later known as the Shuttle Mir program . NASA paid $ 400 million for this. This marked the first collaboration between the two space powers since the Apollo-Soyuz test project in 1975.

Under US President Bill Clinton , the project of a large space station was then re-launched in November 1993 together with Russia; Russia contributed the plans for the planned Mir-2 station. On the US side, the name Alpha was proposed, but Russia rejected it because the Mir station was the first modular space station - Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet. By 1998, 13 other countries had joined the project: eleven of the ESA states (Great Britain was a co-signatory to the treaty, but later left), Japan and Canada. In addition, in October 1997, Brazil signed a separate contract with the USA for the use of the space station, which is now called the International Space Station (ISS). The following year, construction of the station began with the start of the Russian cargo and propulsion module Zarya (Sunrise).

Structural electronics

Like the Russian Mir space station , the ISS has a modular structure. Individual assemblies were brought into orbit by launch vehicles and space shuttles and assembled there. Around 40 assembly flights were necessary. A total of 37 shuttle flights were carried out until the space shuttles were decommissioned in mid-2011. The rest was carried out by unmanned Russian Proton and Soyuz launch vehicles . The entire station has been in routine operation since the 2000s, but extensions are planned at least until the mid-2020s.

Unmanned construction

The first ISS component in space was the Zarya cargo and propulsion module built by Russia . It was launched into orbit on November 20, 1998 by a Proton heavy-lift rocket. Two weeks later, the first connection node Unity (Node 1) came into space with the space shuttle mission STS-88 and was connected to Zarya. This node connects the US and Russian parts of the station. The next two logistical shuttle flights, STS-96 and STS-101 , were used to transport equipment to the station. Further work was also carried out on the exterior of the complex.

The Russian residential module Zvezda started as the next module in the summer of 2000 . It was also launched by a Proton rocket and automatically docked on the Zarya module. On another logistics flight ( STS-106 ), food, clothing, water and other everyday items were brought to the station for the first regular crew. In addition, the Elektron system , which is responsible for processing the breathing air, was installed. In October 2000 the first grid segment, called Integrated Truss Structure Z1 , was brought to the station with the STS-92 mission . It was intended to temporarily serve as a connection between a solar cell carrier and the inhabited part of the ISS. It also houses equipment for position control and a small storage space at the Zenit docking port. After that, on November 2, 2000, the first long-term crew, ISS Expedition 1 , was able to move into the station. She started with Soyuz TM-31 for the station.

Manned construction

As the next module, the STS-97 shuttle mission brought the first of four large solar modules to the station. The P6 collector was initially installed on Z1 in December 2000 and in the initial phase provided almost all of the energy needed to operate the station. The module was only moved to the port end of the ISS in October 2007. With the STS-98 mission , the US laboratory module Destiny was brought to the station and docked at Unity. After another logistics flight, the station's first robotic arm, Canadarm2 , was delivered with the STS-100 , and the Quest US airlock with the STS-104 . This enabled the astronauts to perform space exits without the help of the shuttle and to help build the station.

The Russian docking module Pirs was launched on September 14, 2001 and was used both for docking Soyuz and Progress spaceships and for exiting in Russian spacesuits. For the launch of this module, a Soyuz missile and a modified Progress were used for the first time. For a long time, until Poisk was launched in 2009, it was the only module that was launched in this way.

Then three more elements of the lattice structure of the station were started. The elements S0 , S1 and P1 formed the framework to which the other cantilevers with the associated solar cells were later attached.

In the following missions, the scaffolding and the power supply were further expanded. First, a piece of grid structure and a large solar module (P3 / P4) were added to the port side of the STS-115 in September 2006 and three months later the grid element P5 was added ( STS-116 ). In June 2007 another grid element followed on the starboard side with the mission STS-117 including a solar module (S3 / S4) and two months later the extension S5 ( STS-118 ).

In October 2007, the Harmony (Node 2) connection node was brought to the ISS with the STS-120 . In addition, the STS-120 crew moved the P6 solar module to its final location at the left end of the scaffolding. After the Discovery had left the ISS, the 16th long -term crew moved the shuttle docking adapter ( PMA-2 ) from Destiny to Harmony and docked the Harmony / PMA-2 assembly in the final position on the front of Destiny . After a break of more than six years, this was the first expansion of the living space usable by the ISS crews.

The European research module Columbus was installed on February 11, 2008 at the ISS. On June 3, 2008, the installation of the Japanese main module of Kibo was completed. By STS-119 , the fourth and final solar module S6 was installed in March of 2009. In May 2009 the crew of the ISS was increased to six space travelers. The last component of the Kibō module was installed by STS-127 in mid-July . In November 2009, the Russian coupling module Poisk reached the station. In February 2010, the connecting node Tranquility (Node 3) with the Cupola viewing dome was installed. The Russian module Rassvet followed in May 2010 , the PMM Leonardo in March 2011. On October 23, 2010, the ISS replaced the Mir with 3644 days as the spacecraft that was permanently occupied by humans for the longest time. This record has been extended to 7564 days to date (July 19, 2021). The AMS experiment was installed in May 2011 with the penultimate shuttle flight. In 2021, the station is to be further completed with the Russian laboratory module Nauka (MLM).

NASA is working on the commercialization of the space station and would like to install additional modules together with Axiom Space .

A list of all ISS modules sorted according to the time of start can be found under List of ISS modules .

Structure of the ISS (overview)

The modules with a blue background are under pressure and can therefore be entered by the crew without using spacesuits. Modules in the station that are not under pressure are marked in red. Other pressureless components are highlighted in yellow. Areas without a colored background (white) are not yet part of the ISS.

The Unity module is directly connected to the Destiny Laboratory. These are shown separately in this overview.

SSVP (Russian Docking System)
Solar cell surface
Zvezda (DOS-8)
Solar cell surface
SSVP (Russian Docking System) Poisk
Pirs SSVP (Russian Docking System)
European Robotic Arm
Pritschal (planned Russian docking module)
Solar cell surface (retracted)
Solar cell surface (retracted)
Rasswet SSVP (Russian Docking System)
Common Berthing Mechanism (docking module)
Multipurpose logistics module Leonardo
Bigelow Expandable Activity Module
Node 1
Node 3
ITS solar modules
ITS solar modules
Heat control system
Heat control system
ITS solar modules
ITS solar modules
S5 / 6 S3 / S4 truss S1 truss S0 truss P1 truss P3 / P4 truss P5 / 6
ELC 4 , ESP 3
robotic arm
robotic arm
ITS solar modules
ITS solar modules
ITS solar modules
ITS solar modules
ESP 1 Destiny
Common Berthing Mechanism
robotic arm
External payloads of Columbus
( ACES , Bartolomeo , EuTEF , SMO / SOLAR )
Node 2
Kibo Kibō
external platform


Altitude of International Space Station.svg
Average orbit height of the ISS from the start in Nov. 1998 to Nov. 2018
Animation of International Space Station trajectory.gif
Animation of the ISS orbit on Sep 14 until Nov. 14, 2018 around the earth (not shown)

The ISS is in an approximately circular low earth orbit (LEO) with an orbit inclination of about 51.6 ° to the equator and orbits the earth at about 28,800 km / h about every one and a half hours in an easterly direction.

The range of the orbit height is typically 370 to 460 km. Due to the low eccentricity of the orbital ellipse, the altitude fluctuates by a maximum of 20 kilometers during one orbit between perigee and apogee . Within this range of variation, sometimes also below this, the altitude is chosen depending on the eleven-year cycle of solar activity , because this determines the extent of the thermosphere in which the station moves. Due to friction with the atoms, the mean orbit height decreases by 50 to 150 m per day. This loss of altitude is compensated at irregular intervals by acceleration in the direction of flight (reboost maneuver), depending on the requirements of the station operation or to avoid space debris, with thrust from Progress , Soyuz , Cygnus or the Zvezda module. In the past, the shuttle also played a major role in compensating for this loss of altitude.

These maneuvers cost around 7,000 kilograms of fuel per year. The increasing effort for the supply flights and the strong altitude dependence of the density of the space debris, the particles of which are also subject to air friction and do not exist for long on low orbits, speak against a much higher altitude. Particles from a size of a few centimeters are detected and monitored by radar .

The position of the orbit relative to the sun determines the length of the orbital night. If the angle ( beta ) between the plane of the orbit and the direction of the sun exceeds values ​​of 60 °, the night phase becomes so short that the station has to be specially aligned in order not to absorb too much heat. Space shuttle visits did not take place at such times as docked shuttles would have overheated. This phase is called the beta-angle cutout or simply beta cutout .

The module axes of the ISS are oriented parallel to the earth's surface. Like the moon, it always faces the earth with the same “under” side. An observer who can see it appear 10 ° above the horizon at night with the right view, first shows it its "bow" (diagonally from below), and finally its "stern".


The supply of the crew with food, fresh water, clothing, oxygen as well as spare parts and scientific experiments was ensured until March 2008 exclusively by Russian Progress freighters and US space shuttles. From April 2008 to August 2014, the ISS was also supplied by the European Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), which was built by Airbus Defense and Space , and from September 2009 to 2020 with the Japanese H-2 Transfer developed by the state-owned JAXA Vehicle (HTV).

With the commercial crew and freight program and the commercial resupply services included in it , selected American companies began developing and building space transporters . The US space company SpaceX has been supplying the ISS with the Dragon since 2012 . In 2014 the Orbital Sciences Corporation followed with the space shuttle Cygnus . From 2022, the spacecraft Dream Chaser from the Sierra Nevada Corporation will also bring cargo to the ISS.

Transporter capacity Skills carrier Starting costs
approximate values
Period of use picture
To Back
Soyuz Yes Yes Passenger
Freight transport Reboost
return transport
Soyuz since 1967
(2000–20: 62 times to the ISS)
Soyuz TMA-7 spacecraft.jpg
progress 2.3 t No Freight transport
fuel transfer
Soyuz $ 65 million since 1978
(2000–20: 76 times to the ISS)
Space Shuttle
with MPLM
9 t 9 t Freight
transport Transport of ISPR
transport of external loads
Station construction
Return transport
up to 7 space travelers
Space shuttle $ 1,000 million 2001–2011 (12 ×)
Mplm in shuttle.jpg
ATV 7.7 t No Freight transport
fuel transfer
Ariane 5 $ 600 million 2008–2015 (5 ×)
View of ATV-2 - cropped and rotated.jpg
HTV 6.0 t No Freight
transport Transport of ISPR
Transport of external loads
H-2B $ 300-320 million 2009-2020 (9 ×)
HTV-1 approaches ISS.jpg
Dragon 6.0 t 2.5 t Freight
transport Transport of ISPR
Transport of external loads
Return transport
Falcon 9 $ 150 million 2012–20 (21 ×)
SpaceX Dragon 16 (46205223352) .jpg
Cygnus 3.75 t No Freight
transport Transport by ISPR
Antares / Atlas 5 $ 220 million since 2014
(until 2020: 15 ×)
CRS Orb-2 Cygnus 3 SS Janice Voss approaches ISS (ISS040-E-069311) .jpg
Dragon 2 6.0 t 3.0 t Freight transport,
transport, transport of external loads,
return transport
Falcon 9 $ 230 million since 2019
(until 2020: 4 ×)
SpaceX Crew Dragon Demo-1 Successfully Docks to Station.jpg
Dream Chaser 5.5 t 1.75 t Freight transportation Vulcan from 2022 (planned)
HTV-X Freight
transport Transport of ISPR
Transport of external loads
H3 from 2022 (planned)
The Progress (Model: M-14M) shortly before arriving at the ISS (Jan. 2012)


The Russian Progress transport spaceships provide basic supplies for the station. The unmanned transporters derived from the Soyuz spaceship are able to supply the ISS alone on an average of four flights per year, provided it is only inhabited by two people. This had to be done while the shuttle fleet was banned from flying after the 2003 Columbia crash . Larger crews can also be supplied with a higher take-off frequency.

The spaceships are neither reusable nor transportable. After docking at a port on the Russian part of the station, the roughly 2.5 tons of freight and fuel will be transferred to the station. Then Progress is filled with rubbish, after several months it is disconnected and made to burn up in the earth's atmosphere.

A disadvantage of the Progress spaceships is the relatively small diameter of the connecting hatches, which is why Progress cannot deliver bulky payloads and spare parts (such as gyroscopes ). Russia initially used the Progress versions M and M1 for transports to the ISS , which were later developed into the MM and currently MS versions . The first two versions had already been used to supply the Mir space station and essentially differ in the proportion of fuel that can be carried. Progress M1M had a significantly higher payload capacity.

The MPLM logistics module in the payload bay of the space shuttle Discovery (March 2001)

Multi-Purpose Logistics Module

The Multi-Purpose Logistics Modules (MPLM) were three supply modules built by Alenia Spazio in Italy for freight transport to the ISS, one of which could be transported in the space shuttle's payload bay . Their names were Leonardo, Rafaello and Donatello. The payload capacity of a module was approximately 9.1 tons, higher than that of the Progress spaceships. The modules should be usable a maximum of 25 times and could bring equipment to the station or results of experiments back to Earth. After docking the shuttle, the module was hoisted out of the shuttle's loading bay by the shuttle's robot arm and then docked with the Canadarm2 on a coupling socket on the space station . After the cargo had been transferred to the ISS, the MPLM was loaded with the results of completed experiments, but also garbage, and brought back to earth by the shuttle. Between 2001 and 2011, Leonardo was deployed eight times and Rafaello four times on shuttle missions. Leonardo was modified before its eighth launch and then remained on the ISS as a permanent module.

The ATV-3 docking (March 2012)


From 2008 to 2014, ESA also contributed to supplying the station. This was done with the ATV ( Automated Transfer Vehicle ), which, like the Russian Progress ships, transported cargo. The payload capacity of an ATV was 7.5 tons, roughly three times that of a Progress transporter. Of this, about 4.5 tons could be fuel that was used to lift the ISS orbit. This was done z. Partly also by the engines of the ATV. A laser-assisted automatic system was used for the coupling, with which the ATV could independently attach to the rear docking connector of the Russian Zvezda module. The docking aids required (antennas and laser reflectors) are located there. The ESA contract comprised a total of five ATV flights. The first ATV was launched on March 9, 2008 under the name "Jules Verne" from an Ariane 5 rocket and docked at the space station on April 3. The last ATV "Georges Lemaître" left the ISS on February 14, 2015.

HTV freighter (model: Kounotori 4) shortly before docking with the ISS (Aug. 2013)


A similar transport vehicle was also developed by the Japanese space agency JAXA and named H-2 Transfer Vehicle (HTV) after the H-II B launch vehicle used . Later the name Kounotori (German white stork) was chosen for the cargo space ships. The size of the HTV is roughly the same as that of a bus; the payload is around six tons. In contrast to the ATV, the Japanese transporter was not able to carry out an automatic docking maneuver, but was caught by the robot arm of the station and attached to a free coupling socket in the US part of the station. The first HTV was started on September 10, 2009. On September 17th, it docked with the Harmony ISS module . The last HTV started on May 20, 2020 and docked on May 25.


In order to be able to continue supplying the station under US management after the end of the space shuttle program in mid-2011, NASA launched the COTS program to ensure the supply of material and crew. After an initial competition, the two private companies SpaceX and Rocketplane Kistler were commissioned in August 2006 to develop appropriate rockets as well as crew and logistics modules. After Rocketplane Kistler was unable to keep its commitments regarding the acquisition of third-party funding, NASA terminated the company's involvement in October 2007. Orbital Sciences Corporation was commissioned in a second competition in 2008 . The COTS program was completed in November 2013 after both Dragon (from SpaceX) and Cygnus (from Orbital Sciences) successfully completed test missions to the ISS.


SpaceX has been carrying out material transport flights to the ISS since May 2012 and, in contrast to HTV and ATV missions, can also bring material and research results back to Earth. The Dragon spaceship was used for this until March 2020, and the modernized Cargo Dragon 2 since the end of 2020 , which - like the ATV and Progress - is automatically docked to the ISS. Preparations for this had already been made during outboard work during Expedition 42 (2015) when the installation of new IDSS docking adapters ( IDA adapters ) was being prepared.


Orbital Sciences has been conducting material transport flights to the ISS with the Cygnus spacecraft since September 2013 . Just like the Progress , the Cygnus is not reusable. It docks from the ISS laden with waste (e.g. garbage and excrement) in order to burn up when it re-enters the earth's atmosphere.


Jeffrey N. Williams at work in the Destiny Lab

The operation of the station is divided into consecutively numbered "expeditions" currently lasting around 6 months. The participants in the expeditions are called "long-term crews"; in addition, additional short-term visitors can be on board. Since November 17, 2020, the ISS has been permanently manned by a permanent team of 7 expedition participants; during the crew change their number rises briefly to 10-11. In the early years the regular crew consisted of only 2–3 people, in the meantime it consisted of 6. An overview of all long-term crews is given in the list of ISS expeditions .

One of the ISS crew members has the function of commander and is in charge of the other expedition participants - the "flight engineers". The command office changes shortly before the expedition ends. These ISS function designations are not to be confused with the functions of the same name for the crews of the feeder spaceships. For example, the commander of the Soyuz MS-13 feeder flight did not become the ISS commander as planned, but was one of the flight engineers on the same Soyuz flight.

The ISS long-term crews were initially replaced by space shuttle missions. Three space travelers each started to the ISS to stay there for six to seven months. After the Columbia accident on February 1, 2003, the shuttles were no longer available to supply the station for a long time. The crew size was therefore reduced to two people from the ISS expedition 7 and the crew exchange was switched to Soyuz spaceships. With the shuttle mission STS-121 , the German Thomas Reiter was brought to the ISS for a long-term stay in July 2006 as the first ESA spaceman. The station now had three crew members again. From this point on, two spacemen were replaced by Soyuz spaceships, the third was brought to the station or back to Earth by space shuttle. After Nicole Stott returned with STS-129 in November 2009, the team exchange was carried out exclusively via Soyuz spaceships for ten years.

With the arrival of Soyuz TMA-15 on May 29, 2009, six crew members were permanently on the ISS for the first time and two Soyuz spaceships were available for an eventual evacuation of the station. At the time, NASA estimated the probability of an evacuation within a period of six months to be 1: 124. From 2009 to 2018, the regular ISS expeditions alternately only lasted about four and about two months. Since then, the space travelers have mostly belonged to two consecutive expeditions, so that the flight duration of about six months did not change.

The first twelve expeditions consisted entirely of Russian and US space travelers. Since ISS expedition 13 in 2006, individual astronauts from ESA , JAXA and CSA have also regularly completed long-term stays on the ISS. In addition to the long-term crews, other astronauts from various nations also visited the ISS. While their Soyuz spaceship or space shuttle was docked on the ISS, their crews worked on the ISS for about one to two weeks and then returned.

On March 29, 2013, the crew of the Soyuz TMA-08M mission flew to the ISS for the first time in a record time of just under six hours, previously two days were necessary. With Soyuz MS-17 , the approach time on October 14, 2020 was halved to a new record of just three hours.

The start of regular flights with the American spaceship Crew Dragon in autumn 2020 made it possible to increase the permanent crew from six to seven people. The Crew Dragon has room for four spacemen, one more than in the Soyuz .

By 2020, a total of around 240 people had visited the ISS, over 100 of whom had completed one or more long-term stays. Seven of the visitors were space tourists who had bought a flight on a Soyuz spaceship for about twenty million US dollars each and stayed at the station for about a week each, one of whom, Charles Simonyi , had already done twice. The list of space travelers on the International Space Station provides an alphabetical overview, the list of manned missions to the International Space Station provides a chronological overview .

For a long time, the longest mission was ISS Expedition 14 with 215 days, 8 hours and 22 minutes and 48 seconds. In 2016, Scott Kelly and Michail Kornijenko set the record for the longest stay in space on the ISS with 340 days, which is still valid today. The record for the longest stay of a woman in space has been held by Christina Koch ( ISS expedition 59 to 61 ) since 2019 .


Basically between under pressure distinguished standing and non-pressurized modules. All the modules used by the astronauts for living, sleeping and working are under pressure. The life support system on board ( ISS ECLSS ) ensures an atmosphere that corresponds to that on earth (21 percent oxygen , 78 percent nitrogen , 1014  hectopascals ). The modules under pressure include, for example, the US Destiny laboratory or the Russian module Zarya. Solar cells or grid structures are not under pressure.

Living and working modules


Sarja ( Russian Заря for "Dawn") was the first module of the ISS. It was built and launched by Russia but funded by NASA. In the first stage of expansion, it provided electricity and navigation options. Today it is used as a freight module for the temporary storage of equipment. The spherical coupling point Sarjas has served as a base for the Russian crane Strela-2 since August 2012 .


The Pressurized Mating Adapter 1 is the constantly pressurized adapter between Sarja and the Unity connection node. In addition, PMA-1 is used as storage space.


The Unity -Verbindungsknoten (Node 1) (Engl. For unity , harmony ) connects the Russian part of an adapter with the rest of the station and has six docking port . Sometimes the node is also used as stowage space for food if there is not enough space shortly after the arrival of Progress freighters in the Sarja module.

Zvezda / DOS-8

Zvezda ( Russian Звезда for "star") or DOS-8 is the station's Russian residential and service module. It includes control devices, life support systems, sanitary facilities, kitchen, exercise equipment and several living rooms. Soyuz spaceships and Progress freighters, formerly also the European ATV, dock at the rear coupling of Zvezda. Two of the six sleeping cabins are located there.


The Destiny module while being attached to the station

The Destiny module (English for fate , providence ) is the US American laboratory module of the ISS. It offers space for 24 racks that can be used for experiments and control units or as storage space. Experiments and observations in the fields of life sciences , materials research , earth observation , space research and technology are carried out in the laboratory.


Quest (Engl. For quest , search ), the US airlock of the ISS. It allows you to leave the station in US spacesuits for maintenance and repair work outside the ISS. In the airlock the US spacesuits and tools for the spacewalk stored.


Pirs ( Russian Пирс for pier ) or Stykowoi Otsek 1 (SO 1) is the Russian airlock. It is used for exits in Russian Orlan suits. In contrast to Quest, however, Pirs can also be used as a coupling adapter for approaching Soyuz spaceships or Progress freighters. In the summer of 2021, Pirs is to make room for the new Nauka research module and crash it in a controlled manner.


Harmony (Node 2) (engl. For harmony , unity ), a connection node that is attached to the Destiny module. It forms the transition to the Kibō and Columbus modules and offers a connection option for MPLM modules or HTV transporters . It has eight racks that are used to supply the station with air, electricity and water as well as contain other vital systems or act as storage space. Four of the six sleeping cabins are also located there.


Columbus is hoisted out of the loading bay of the Atlantis

Columbus is the European laboratory module of the ISS. It contains space for a total of ten racks, which are used, among other things, for experiments in materials and biosciences as well as fluid research.


The Kibō Components (Illustration)

The Japanese contribution to the ISS is called Kibō ( Japanese for "hope"). The system consists of four modules that were brought into space with the STS-123 , STS-124 and STS-127 missions .

  • The Experiment Logistics Module (ELM) is under pressure and is coupled to the zenith of Kibō. It could also be filled with cargo and brought to Earth like an MPLM on the space shuttle; however, this option was not used.
  • The Pressurized Module (PM) - the main module under pressure - is about the size of the US Destiny laboratory and weighs just under 16 tons. At the end of the module there is a small pressure lock to retrieve experiments from the platform or to mount them there.
  • The Remote Manipulator System (JEMRMS) is a ten meter long robotic arm that can be used to bring experiments to the platform or to retrieve them from there. It consists of a main arm for larger masses and a special arm that can be docked on the large arm. The special arm can only move small masses, but with a very high degree of accuracy.
  • The Exposed Facility (EF), see section Exposed Facility (EF) .


In November 2009 the Russian coupling module Poisk ( Russian Поиск for "search", also Maly Issledowatelski Module 2, MIM 2 or MRM-2 for short) was brought to the ISS with a Soyuz rocket . Poisk is almost identical to the Pirs airlock, complements it and is expected to replace it from 2021. In addition, Poisk is also used for external scientific experiments. The module is coupled to the Zvezda zenith docking port. Since February 2012 Poisk has been the base for the Russian crane Strela-1 .


Tranquility and Cupola at the ISS

Tranquility (Engl. For peace ) is a connecting node that is docked at the Unity connecting node. It contains systems for water and air treatment, additional storage space and coupling nozzles for docking additional modules. Tranquility was brought to the ISS together with the Cupola viewing platform in February 2010 on the STS-130 shuttle mission .


Astronauts photograph the earth in the Cupola module; The red lettering of the Soyuz spaceship can be seen above the astronaut on the left

Cupola (Italian for dome ) is a multi-part viewing window with a diameter of almost 3 meters and a height of 1.5 meters. Cupola has 6 large side windows and a large central window with a diameter of 80 centimeters. Cupola was brought to the ISS in February 2010 and attached to the Nadir docking port Tranquilitys.


Rassvet ( Russian Рассвет for "dawn", also Docking Cargo Module or Maly Issledowatelski Module 1 - MIM 1) was brought to the ISS in May 2010 with the STS-132 shuttle mission and docked at the Zarya module. There it provides a docking place for Soyuz and Progress ships in order to be able to serve the number of these ships, which has been increasing since 2009.

Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM)

In February 2011, the STS-133 mission brought the modified MPLM Leonardo to the ISS in addition to the ELC-4 in order to remain permanently docked there.


The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) is an experimental inflatable module from Bigelow Aerospace , which, after initial planning, was only to remain temporarily on the ISS. It is based on the NASA Transhab concept and has a volume of around 16 m 3 (3.6 m 3 when packaged ). The module was brought to the ISS in April 2016 with the CRS-8 mission in the depressurized part of the Dragon space freighter and docked to the aft port of the Tranquility module . In May 2016 the module was inflated. The pressure should be held for the next two years to test the module for its suitability. In December 2017, NASA announced that the license agreement between Bigelow and NASA had been extended by three years. In addition, brackets were installed so that the room could be used as a warehouse. In 2019, NASA announced that it would continue to use the module in the long term. It is certified for a stay at the station until 2028.

PMA-2 and 3

The Pressurized Mating Adapters 2 and 3 are completely under pressure after coupling a spaceship. The station side of the PMAs can be pressurized separately outside of the couplings and is then used as storage space.

IDA-2 and 3

The International Docking Adapter 2 (IDA-2) is a coupling adapter installed on the PMA-2 in accordance with the International Docking System Standard (IDSS). IDA-2 launched nine CRS as an external load of the Dragon freighter and was on 19 August 2016 during a July 18, 2016, the mission spacewalk attached to the ISS.

In July 2019, IDA-3, another adapter for the PMA-3 coupling module, was brought to the ISS. For this, PMA-3 was relocated from Tranquility (Node 3) to the Zenit port of Harmony (Node 2) at the bow of the station in March 2017. Since the connection of IDA-3 in August 2019, two IDSS coupling nozzles have been available for modern spaceships (e.g. Dragon 2 , CST-100 and Dream Chaser ).

Modules not under pressure

ISS after installing element S0
Robert Lee Curbeam (left) and Christer Fuglesang on an spaceboard mission during the STS-116 mission . The land masses depicted are the South Island (left) and North Island (right) of New Zealand .

Integrated truss structure

The actual structure of the station is called the Integrated Truss Structure . It is oriented perpendicular to the direction of flight and consists of eleven elements. The elements P1, P3 / P4, P5 and P6 are disposed in the flight direction to the left (of English. Portside , starboard '). On the right-hand side (“S” for starboard , starboard ”) the elements S1, S3 / S4, S5 and S6 are named. Element S0 is in the middle and is connected to the inhabited part of the station via the Destiny Laboratory . The P6 element was the first of the four large US solar modules and was initially installed above the Z1 element. As part of the STS-120 mission, it was attached to its final position on the P5 element. The elements P2 and S2 were originally intended as drive elements, but became superfluous due to the Russian involvement in the station.

Solar modules

In addition to the smaller solar cells on the Russian modules, which were mainly used at the start of construction, the ISS has four large solar elements. These are attached to elements P6 and P4 on the left and S6 and S4 on the right. The elements can be rotated around two axes so that they are always optimally aligned with the sun.

Heat Rejection System (HRS) and Photovoltaic Radiator (PVR)

Excess heat is emitted via radiators . Three-row radiators can be found on the central truss elements S1 and P1. In addition, each solar module has a smaller radiator. The radiators are the thermodynamic counterparts to the solar panels that supply the station with energy and thus prevent heat build-up in the station.

Canadarm2 with OBSS

Astronaut Steve Robinson is carried by Canadarm2 during STS-114

The robot arm of the station is called Canadarm2 or SSRMS (Space Station Remote Manipulator) (based on the Canadarm of the shuttle) . The arm can move a mass of up to 100 tons and is controlled from inside the Destiny Laboratory. Four cameras are available for this - direct eye contact is not necessary. Since the installation of Cupolas, the robot arm can also be operated from there. The arm is not mounted at a fixed point on the station, but can be attached with one of several connectors that are distributed over the entire station. For this purpose, the arm has a gripping mechanism at both ends. In addition, the arm can be placed on the mobile transporter and driven along the lattice structure on rails.

An extension rod of the space shuttle's robotic arm, the so-called Orbiter Boom Sensor System (OBSS), was permanently deposited on the ISS in 2011 as an Enhanced International Space Station Boom Assembly during the STS-134 mission . To do this, some modifications had to be made to the OBSS, including a gripping coupling, in order to make it compatible with the robot arm of the station. The utility of the extension arm had already proven itself in 2007 when repairing the P6 solar panel during the STS-120 mission .


Dextre is the nickname of the "robot hand", the technical name of which is Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator (SPDM). The element equipped with two arms and hands can be used as an end piece for the robot arm of the station, but can also be used independently. Dextre has many joints and devices, such as retractable Allen keys . This means that more complex work can be carried out outside of the station without the need for an external flight.


Rasswet (foreground) and Strela's cranes on the side at the old location on the
Pirs docking module

Strela is the name of two cranes of Russian design that are used in the context of spacecraft for the transport of materials and for the transport of space travelers. Initially, both cranes were attached to the Pirs module , in 2012 the Strela-1 was moved to the Poisk module and Strela-2 to the Sarja storage module . With a range of around 18 meters, Strela is able to reach a large part of the station's Russian segment.

Exposed Facility (EF)

A platform for experiments in free space. It belongs to the Japanese Kibō system , is attached to the front of the Pressurized Module and can be equipped with a large number of experiments. The platform was brought to the station in July 2009 with the STS-127 shuttle mission .

EXPRESS Logistics Carrier

The EXPRESS Logistics Carrier (ELC, and EXPRESS = Ex pedite the P rocessing of E Xperiments to the S pace S tation ) offer additional experimentation surface in a vacuum. The modules ELC-1 and ELC-2 were installed on the ISS with the shuttle mission STS-129 in November 2009 and ELC-4 with STS-133 at the end of February 2011. ELC-3 was installed in May 2011 with the STS-134 mission . ELC-5 was canceled in favor of the MRM1 .

Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS)

The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer Experiment (AMS) is a particle detector for investigating cosmic radiation that was attached to the ISS on May 19, 2011 with STS-134 .


The NICER without protective cover (January 2016)

The Neutron star Interior Composition ExploreR was brought to the ISS in a Dragon freighter in June 2017 and installed there. It consists of 56 X-ray detectors and is intended to collect spectral data from neutron stars in order to better understand their exotic matter.


Bartolomeo is a platform for experiments in free space built by Airbus in Bremen. It was brought to the ISS in March 2020 with the Dragon supply flight CRS-20 and installed by remote control on the European Columbus laboratory module in April 2020.

Planned modules

MLM with ERA installed (artist's impression)
Nauka (2021)
The Russian laboratory module Nauka (MLM, Russian Многоцелевой лабораторный модуль - МЛМ for multi-purpose laboratory module) is to be brought to the ISS by a Proton-M rocket together with the European Robotic Arm in 2021 (originally planned for the end of 2011). The module should offer space for scientific experiments as well as contain storage rooms and rooms for the team. It should also have engine systems that can be used to correct the position of the station. The ESA manipulator system European Robotic Arm (ERA), a radiator and an experiment lock will be installed on the outside of Nauka.
European Robotic Arm (ERA; 2021)
The European Robotic Arm is similar to Canadarm2 a robotic arm. However, it has gripping mechanisms designed for the Russian part of the ISS. It is over 11 m long and, with a net weight of 630 kg, can position around 8 tons of payload with an accuracy of less than 5 mm. The European Robotic Arm is intended to reduce the deployment time for outdoor work (EVA) and to perform various tasks semi-automatically and fully automatically.
Mockup of the Prichal module
Platform (Uslowoi module, UM)
Due to the contractual extension of the service life of the International Space Station until at least 2024, Russia planned to expand its segment by two or three additional research modules. In January 2011, the construction and launch of the platform connection module required for this was approved, to which spaceships can also be docked. The module is spherical, has a volume of around 14 cubic meters and a mass of 4 tons. It is equipped with six coupling nozzles all around and is to be attached to the Nauka nadir docking port. There are then five coupling points for unmanned or manned spaceships available. Russia abandoned the plans for additional modules to be attached to Pritschal in 2021. (See also description in the article: Nauka )
The Axiom Space modules coupled to the ISS (artist's impression)
In January 2020, NASA and Axiom Space agreed to expand the ISS to include several interconnected privately operated modules. Axiom plans to have the first of these brought to the ISS in the second half of 2024.

Deleted modules and projects

The rescue glider X-38 during a test flight
Habitation modules
The Habitation Module should be about ten meters long and only serve as living space. It should contain, among other things, four sleeping corners, a shower and a kitchenette.
Science Power Platform
The Science Power Platform (SPP) was supposed to provide power for the Russian components. In addition, she should be equipped with control nozzles, which should correct the orbit of the ISS. The Russian system was to dock with the ISS with the STS-138 mission. It was deleted because further modules were also not to be implemented and thus the energy of the large US solar cell surfaces is completely sufficient. The pressurized part was later converted into the mini research module Rasswet and reached the station in 2010.
Centrifuge Accommodations Module
The Centrifuge Accommodations Module (CAM) should provide adjustable gravity for experiments. The module would have belonged to the US segment of the station, but was built by Japan in return for the transport of the Kibo module to the ISS. Due to a lack of funds, NASA will no longer bring this module to the ISS.
Crew Return Vehicle X-38
The X-38 was designed as a wingless lifting body , which should enable the international space station to be evacuated in an emergency. The glider should have space for seven people and be equipped with a drive unit for leaving the orbit. It was planned that such a crew return vehicle would be docked at the ISS at all times . However, development of the X-38 was discontinued in 2002 due to excessive costs. The possibility of evacuation was and is subsequently ensured by the Soyuz spaceships and, since 2020, also by the Dragon Crew .
OKA-T was a spacecraft weighing almost 8 t. B. on nanotechnology , nanoelectronics or molecular beam epitaxy under particularly good microgravity, better than 1 µg (micro-g), and especially good vacuum conditions behind a shield should have been completed. OKA-T should operate autonomously for around 90 to 180 days and then connect to the ISS again and be reloaded. The technical concept for a free-flying laboratory for microgravity research was commissioned to Energija at the end of 2012. The realization was planned for the end of 2018, but was canceled in April 2015.
In December 2012, the contract for the construction of a science and energy module (NEM) was awarded to Energija . The module should have a mass of around 21 tons and be equipped with tracking solar cell panels at the head end. These should provide an output of 18 kW. A pressurized cylindrical part about 5.8 meters long and 4.30 m in diameter should provide space for scientific work. NEM 1 should be attached to the side of the UM coupling module. According to Dmitri Rogozin, head of the Russian space organization Roskosmos, the NEM will be converted into the first module of a new Russian space station.

Responsibilities and ground facilities of the ISS operators

The national and international space agencies agreed on the operation of the ISS with the International Space Station Program . The proportion of individual participants in the ISS program varies. This becomes visible in the responsibilities for the operation of the various station modules and the supply and crew spaceships. The mission control centers of the operators are in contact with the crew of the ISS and thus perform a supervising and controlling function.

Ground stations and other facilities relevant to the ISS and its operation

Communication and data transfer of the ISS

Arrangement of laptops and screens for operating the Canadarm2 in the Destiny module

For the US-based part of the station, data transmission and radio communications with the control center take place via the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System (TDRSS) or its satellites (TDRS) in S-band (192 kbps data rate) and Ku-band (up to 300  Mbps ). In 2014, an experimental laser communication system was also brought to the station. Communication with astronauts during spacecraft operations and with the shuttle is or was handled via a UHF system.

The Russian part of the station mainly uses direct radio links to ground stations, the Lutsch network similar to the TDRS, or systems of the US segment to communicate with the Russian control center in Moscow. An experimental laser system was also used in 2012 and 2013.

In the summer of 2008, Internet users from Poland, Germany, Austria and Canada were able to come into direct contact with the astronauts on the ISS for the first time via the Polish instant messenger Gadu-Gadu . This created a public connection to space via the Internet. The action was initiated on the 30th anniversary of the first space flight by a Pole, the cosmonaut Mirosław Hermaszewski .

There are around 100 laptops of the brands IBM and Lenovo ( ThinkPad ) as well as HP on the ISS . Parts of it are out of date or no longer in use or are being used as replacements. The notebooks in use are usually serviced from the earth. The operating systems Windows 95 , Windows 2000 , Windows XP , Windows 7 , Windows 10 and Linux are running on the laptops . Laptops, on which the most important controls of the International Space Station take place, have Debian Linux as their operating system. Previously, until May 2013, they ran with Windows .

Aleksey Ovtschinin and Oleg Kononenko on the manual docking system ( TORU ) of space freighters to the ISS in the Zvezda module

The laptops are modified commercial off-the-shelf products. Changes to the connections, cooling or ventilation and power supply were made to them in order to adapt them to the station's 28 V direct current network, among other things . The laptops on board the ISS are connected to the space station via WLAN and Ethernet , which in turn is connected to the ground stations on earth via the Ku-band . While the computers originally offered speeds of 10 Mbit / s download and 3 Mbit / s upload , NASA updated the systems to 600 Mbit / s at the end of August 2019.

Radio name

For a long time the radio name of the ISS was Station . However, during ISS Expedition 14 , astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria began using the name Alpha (based on the US name of the station during the early planning phase), which was then adopted by Houston and other astronauts. After his stay at the station, however, they returned to the old nickname Station , among other things because the ISS is not the first space station for the Russian side. In the meantime, the respective ISS commander decides on the radio name to be used at the beginning of an expedition (mostly station ).


The ARISS Project ( English Amateur Radio on the International Space Station for Amateur Radio on the International Space Station ) is used to make contacts with amateur stations on Earth, especially between schools and ISS Astro Nauen via amateur radio . The first phase of ARISS already took place in the first ISS module Sarja , so that the first contact with the school by the astronaut William Shepherd was made on December 21, 2000 just two years after its start . On this also is the APRS - Digipeater . As part of ARISS phase 2, several antennas for shortwave , VHF , UHF and the L-band were attached to the Zvezda module during various space missions . For the amateur radio station in the Columbus module, antennas for the S and L bands were installed on its micrometeorite shield in October 2007 .

Life Support Systems (ECLSS)

The environmental control and life support system of the International Space Station ( ECLSS ) regulates the air pressure and the air composition (oxygen supply) on board, it also ensures the water supply and the functioning of the sanitary technology (waste management).

The air pressure (1014 hectopascals ), as well as the composition of the air on board (21% oxygen , 78% nitrogen ), is the same as what people are used to on earth.

Oxygen supply and air filtration

Oxygen is generated and carbon dioxide is filtered, among other things, in the Russian part of the space station by a water electrolysis generator in the Zvezda module; the resulting hydrogen is then vented from the station. That oxygen generator with an output of 1  kW consumes approximately one liter of water per crew member and day. This water is brought from the earth or recycled from the crew's excreted urine . In 2010, the life support system ( ACLS ) built by ESA and Airbus SE was installed in the US part of the space station, in the Tranquility module. It also works by electrolysis of water. Unlike the older generator in the Swesda the ACLS produces 40% of the required water itself, as it via one of Evonik built fixed bed - catalytic converter has, in a reactor Sabatier is integrated.

In an emergency, the crew can use oxygen bottles , oxygen candles , a replacement generator ( SFOG ) and an oxygen replacement tank in the Quest module .

Methane from the intestines and sweat or ammonia are removed from the air in the space station by activated carbon filters . In addition, the air is cleaned by particulate filters . Fans ensure a sufficient exchange of air on board so that no carbon dioxide bubbles form around the heads of the crew, which would arise with stagnant air in weightlessness.

Water supply and waste management

There is a water dispenser on the station that delivers both heated and unheated water.

There are two space toilets on the ISS, one each in Zvezda and one in Tranquility . In these waste and hygiene chambers, toilet users first attach themselves to the toilet seat, which is equipped with spring-loaded handrails to ensure a good seal. A high-performance fan is activated with a lever and the toilet (a suction hole) opens: The air flow sucks the excrement into air-impermeable bags, which, when full, are stored in aluminum boxes in freight transporters (such as the Progress ). After undocking from the space station, these freighters burn up when they re-enter the earth's atmosphere . In the space toilet, urine is collected through a hose that is attached to the front of the toilet. Gender-specific “urine funnel attachments” are attached to this hose so that men and women can use the same toilet. The diverted urine is collected and transferred to a water recovery system, where 93% of it is recycled and reused as drinking water .

In October 2020, a further developed space toilet was brought to the ISS for test purposes.

power supply

Close-up of a solar element on the ISS

The space station is powered exclusively by solar energy . The US part of the ISS has 16 solar panels that provide electrical energy for the station through photovoltaic power generation . These are grouped into eight so-called photovoltaic modules (PVMs), each consisting of two elements, which are aligned with the sun by means of rotating joints. There are two modules at each end of the “backbone” of the ISS; on the port side there are the elements marked P4 and P6 and on the starboard side S4 and S6. Movements of the sun paddles that do not balance each other symmetrically - to be precise, the angular momentum reaction of the station - are recorded by gyroscopes after detection, as is the impulse of an astronaut repelling each other inside the ISS (and its interception).

The eight solar elements work independently of each other. While part of the electricity is fed into the accumulators for storage (initially nickel-hydrogen cells , since 2019 gradually replaced by lithium-ion accumulators ), the other part goes directly to the numerous consumers. For this purpose, the current is routed via four “MBSU” distributors (Main Bus Switching Units). In order to guarantee an even supply of energy to the entire ward, an MBSU can be connected to any other MBSU via cross connections.

Two panels each feed a distributor that divides the power lines and leads out four lines on which the voltage is regulated down in DC voltage converters . The electrical energy is then distributed to each element of the US segment of the ISS through a branched network of lines. The photovoltaic modules generate a voltage of 160  volts (primary power), but the consumers on the US part of the station work with 124 volts direct voltage (secondary power), some devices also work with 28 volts.

Solar panels of the Russian part of the station

The Russian part of the station has several solar panels that are traditionally attached directly to the larger station modules. They can only be rotated around one axis. The solar energy of the Russian part of the space station is stored in nickel-cadmium batteries , with all devices working with 28 volts DC voltage. Electrical energy can be exchanged between the US and Russian systems via converters.

The orientation of the solar elements has a relatively high influence on the air resistance of the station. In the so-called night glider mode , the sun paddles are aligned in such a way that they offer as little resistance as possible to the upper atmosphere. As a result, the resistance can be reduced by an average of 30% and around 1000 kg of fuel can be saved per year.

Room temperature and cooling

Light backs of the radiators next to dark active sides of the solar panels

The room temperature of the international space station is constant at about 22 ° C maintained.

Excess heat output of up to 106.8 kW can be released into space via the cooling system. Two types of radiator groups are used for this :

  • The central Heat Rejection System (HRS) with two three-row cooling groups is located on structures S1 and P1 . Each cooling group radiates a maximum of 35 kW via the 24 tiles on a total area of ​​22 m × 10 m and has a mass of 3.7 tons.
  • The photovoltaic radiators (PVR) are located in addition to the solar cells on the elements P4, P6, S4 and S6 . They each emit 9 kW via seven tiles on an area of ​​13 m × 3.4 m and have a mass of 0.8 tons.

Both types were manufactured by Lockheed Martin and brought into space folded up on the space shuttle. Liquid ammonia is used as the refrigerant .

In Russian modules, heat exchangers and radiators are predominantly integrated into the module structure.

Life on the ISS

Arrangement of sleeping compartments in the Harmony module (seen in the photo: Ronald John Garan , Catherine Coleman , Paolo Nespoli and Alexander Samokutyaev )

Time zones and spatial orientation

The time calculation on the ISS is adjusted to the coordinated universal time (UTC). However, the Elapsed Time mission is used on days when space capsules dock with the ISS . NASA uses a mixture of Pacific ( PST / PDT ), Central ( CST / CDT ) and Eastern Time ( EST / EDT ) time information for public relations related to the ISS . However, the daily routine is often postponed to adapt to the main working hours in the control centers.

There are also directions on the ISS for spatial orientation . It was defined that the direction to the universe is "above" and the wall oriented towards it is the ceiling; consequently the direction to the earth is "below" or the wall oriented towards it, the "ground". As the ISS moves forward (eastward), the part facing west is the rear part of the station.

Daily routine of the crew (as of 2009)

A typical day starts at 6:00 a.m. for the crew. The crew spends the night in 1-person cabins, where they sleep in a sleeping bag. The sleeping compartments differ depending on the module. While the cosmonauts in the Zvezda have windows in the two 1-person cabins, the four 1-person cabins in the Harmony offer more soundproofing and better ventilation. The windows in the Zvezda are also covered at bedtime to simulate a day on Earth, otherwise the crew could experience 16 sunrises and sunsets.

During this rest period, large light sources are dimmed within the entire station, but are never completely switched off for safety reasons. Each cabin has a reading lamp and a laptop set up for the crew member. There are stowage options in the cabins for personal belongings of the crew members.

After breakfast ( astronaut food , which the crew members eat for themselves or in company, as well as with the following meals) and the daily early inspection inside the ISS, a conference with the ground stations follows until 8:10 a.m. before the crew in usually busy with the scientific work on board until 13:05. After a one-hour lunch break, the afternoon consists of endurance sports on a treadmill or bicycle ergometer , or strength training on a training device (which the crews fix themselves on during training because of the weightlessness ). Dinner and a conference of the crew will follow from 7.30 p.m. The planned sleep phase begins at 9:30 p.m. In general, the crew works ten hours a day on a weekday and five hours on Saturdays, with the rest of the time free or to catch up on work.

Parts of the crews of STS127 and ISS Expedition 20 eating (photo from July 21, 2009)

Food and personal hygiene

In the US part of the space station, most of the food is vacuum-sealed in plastic bags or sealed in cans. Preserved food is perceived as having a reduced taste due to the weightlessness , so that an attempt is made to balance this effect with a strong seasoning on the ground . New food is being delivered by freighters or new crews. Fruit and vegetables in particular are rare on the space station. Each crew member works with the kitchens of the space agencies to put together a menu while they are still on earth; the individual meals are then pre-cooked, weighed, vacuum-sealed and frozen on earth before the start of the mission. The meals then only have to be warmed up in the on-board kitchen of the International Space Station. This galley consists of two food warmers, a refrigerator (which was installed in 2008) and a water dispenser that provides both heated and unheated water. Powdered drinks offer a little variety in the selection of drinks. With the ISSpresso, there is a coffee machine on the ISS, which was inaugurated by the Italian Samantha Cristoforetti on May 3, 2015. Drinks and soups are consumed out of plastic bags with straws, while solid foods are eaten with a knife and fork attached to a table with magnets and Velcro fasteners to keep them (including food packaging) from floating. The crew members must ensure that no liquids or food are left floating in the air after the meal has been consumed.

The ISS has no showers due to the lack of water. Instead, the crew members wash themselves with damp cloths and modified shampoo (which does not need to be rinsed out). For the teeth, the crew uses easily digestible toothpaste that they can swallow to save water. Using the toilet on the ISS is described in the section on water supply and waste management .

Since there is no washing machine or dryer in the ISS, clothing after use (socks are worn for around a week, T-shirts for a month) is treated as waste and stowed in a freighter.

Physical consequences of staying in the space station

Astronaut Frank De Winne is attached to the TVIS treadmill with bungee cords aboard the International Space Station
Astronaut Frank De Winne during jogging on the ISS. He is fixed with elastic ropes.

In 2019, based on the evaluation of several astronaut observations, scientists came to the conclusion that a long stay in the space station can lead to problems with blood circulation ( hemodynamics ), blood clots and changes in DNA and cognitive performance. The physical effects of long-term weightlessness also include: muscle atrophy , deterioration of the skeleton ( osteopenia ), slowing of the blood circulation , decreased production of red blood cells , disorders of the sense of balance, and a weakened immune system .

Sport as a countermeasure

To avoid some of the adverse physiological effects, the station is equipped with two treadmills , a stationary bike, and a weight training station.

Each crew member usually trains for two hours a day. The training improves or maintains endurance and strength , but cannot compensate for the reduction in bone density in weightlessness.

Emergency medical equipment

In order to be prepared for medical emergencies, certain crew members have completed an emergency medicine program. Furthermore, there is almost always a radio link with the ground station. The following emergency equipment is on board: defibrillator , ultrasound device , stretcher with restraints and an extensive first aid kit . In severe medical emergencies, a quick return to earth is possible within six hours.

Microorganisms on board the ISS

Due to negative experiences with aggressive microorganisms on the Mir space station , it was ensured during the design of the ISS that it does not have any places where moisture collects (or where microbes can multiply) or which cannot be reached for repair work. Nevertheless, despite the greatest possible hygiene, potentially harmful microorganisms can spread on board the ISS, contaminate the air and water filters and are not only harmful to the health of the crew, but their acids also corrode materials (e.g. plastics, metal) on the ISS and thus the Endanger the functionality of the space station. These microbiological risks have led to the development of a lab-on-a-chip called LOCAD-PTS , which can identify bacteria and molds faster than cultivation methods that require a sample to be sent back to earth. HEPA filters are used to keep the station clean .

After almost 20 years of continuous human occupation of the ISS, around 55 types of microorganisms had settled there, many of which were always detectable on the ISS for over 15 years and thus had survived there.

Volume on board the ISS

The noise level in the station is inevitably high; mainly due to the life support system ECLSS , which, among other things, generates a loud background noise through the pumps for the water circuit and the fans for the air circulation, which is essential for survival. Although devices are tested for low-vibration operation before use on the ISS, parts of the space station turned out to be louder when used in space than they had previously been in test operation on Earth. For example, astronaut James Shelton Voss suffered hearing loss in 2001 after staying on the ISS for 163 days .

Crew members wear audio dosimeters on their belts that continuously measure sound pressure ; it is also continuously collected at several points on the ISS; both are evaluated every 24 hours. If the noise peaks at a workplace in the space station reach 72 dBA , hearing protection is mandatory. Likewise, if the crew is exposed to an average of 67 dbA over 24 hours. Lower values ​​apply to higher tones and higher values ​​apply to lower tones.

Over the years, the volume level has been reduced, especially in the Russian part of the station (there to around 61/62 dbA). In the sleeping cabins in the US section, the level (as of 2014) was between 46 and 51 dbA. In the Columbus module (as of 2014) the volume was roughly 51 to 53 dbA with a sound pressure level .

Radiation exposure on board the ISS

STS-134 EVA4 view to the Russian Orbital Segment.jpg
Photo of the sun from the ISS
Subatomically charged particles , mainly protons from cosmic rays and solar wind , are normally absorbed by the earth's atmosphere . When they interact in sufficient quantity, aurors (polar lights) are formed

The ISS is partially protected from space by the earth's magnetic field . So deflected and teilabsorbiert the magnetosphere the cosmic rays and solar wind usually from the height of 70,000 km around the earth and therefore also to the ISS. However, solar flares pose a danger to the crew, who in such a case can only be warned of a more intense radiation occurrence a few minutes. Such a solar activity happened to the ISS expedition 10 , which sought protection during a solar flare with an X-3 sunbeam intensity in a radiation- protected room in the Russian part of the station equipped for this purpose . In general, the radiation exposure for the crew of the ISS is on average around five times higher than that for passengers in air traffic . The crews of the ISS are exposed to about 1 millisievert of radiation daily  (which corresponds to about a year on earth) and leads to a higher risk of developing cancer . The radiation can penetrate human tissue and damage the DNA and chromosomes of lymphocytes , weakening the immune system . A higher incidence of cataracts (cataracts) has been observed among space travelers , which is probably due to the higher radiation exposure.

Research projects on the ISS (selection)

Defects and repairs on the ISS (selection)

Spare parts for technologies used in space are called ORUs . At the ISS, some spare parts are stored externally on pallets that are divided into ELCs and ESPs .
Two black and orange solar arrays, shown uneven and with a large tear visible.  A crew member in a spacesuit, attached to the end of a robotic arm, holds a latticework between two solar sails.
Scott Parazynski during an extravaganza at the end of the OBSS .

Technical failures or defects of the space station had an impact on the schedule for the further expansion of the station, which led to periods of limited scientific work by the crews.

Serious problems included an oxygen leak in the US part of the ISS in 2004, a defect in the electron oxygen generator in 2006 during ISS expedition 13 and the failure of the computer systems in the Russian part of the ISS in 2007 (during the space mission STS-117 ) when the ISS's engines, oxygen supply and other control systems failed. In the latter case, the main cause was found to be condensation in connectors , resulting in a short circuit .

During the STS-120 in 2007 and after the P6 Integrated Truss Structure and solar systems were relocated , it was discovered that some solar panels were cracked and therefore not working. A spacewalk (EVA) was developed by Scott Parazynski with the support of Douglas Wheelock performed.

This was followed in the same year with malfunctions at the swivel joint ( SARJ ) of the Integrated Truss Structure. Excessive vibrations and high current spikes were found in the drive motor of the swivel joint. Subsequent inspections of EVAs during the space missions STS-120 and STS-123 showed severe contamination from metal chips and dirt in the large drive wheel. Repairs to the joints were made during the STS-126 mission .

During ISS Expedition 17 in September 2008, damage to the cooler of the Integrated Truss Structure S1 was discovered for the first time . It was not until May 15, 2009 that the ammonia line of the damaged radiator plate was disconnected from the rest of the cooling system by closing a valve remotely. The same valve was then used to vent the ammonia from the damaged part of the cooling system, thereby preventing a leak.

On August 1, 2010, during ISS Expedition 24 , a malfunction resulted in the cooling performance in the space station being reduced by half. A first EVA on August 7, 2010 to replace the failed pump module was not fully completed due to an ammonia leak in one of the four quick-release couplings. A second EVA on August 11th successfully removed the failed pump module. A third EVA was required to restore normal functionality of the pump to the cooling lines. This cooling system, including the defects, was produced by Boeing .

At the end of 2011, a bus switching unit on the Integrated Truss Structure S0 was not working properly. Although this did not affect the power supply at first, the part of the system could not be operated or controlled correctly. A first EVA of ISS Expedition 32 on August 30, 2012 could not solve the problem. With a further EVA on September 5, 2012, the same crew succeeded in restoring the full functionality of the power distributor.

On December 24, 2013, astronauts on ISS Expedition 38 installed a new ammonia pump for the station's cooling system. The faulty cooling system failed earlier that month. It was the second spacewalk on Christmas Eve in the history of space travel .

In October 2020 the oxygen generator "Elektron-VM", which had already been defective in 2006, failed in the Russian ISS segment. In addition, attempts were made to seal a leak on the Zvezda module, through which breathing air was lost. After the generator was restarted in December 2020, it failed again, the power supply failed in part of the American segment and the search for a leak on the Zvezda module was restarted due to further air loss.

See also: List of space exits

Dangers of space debris for the ISS

SDIO KEW Lexan projectile.jpg
An aluminum block that was hit by a 7 gram polycarbonate object like the one in the center of the image at 25,200 km / h - similar to the speed of the ISS orbit
Artificial objects in the earth's gravitational field ( satellites and space debris )
ISS impact risk.jpg
A NASA model showing parts of the ISS at high risk of impact from space debris. There is a lot of space debris at the orbit height of the ISS .

In contrast to larger parts of rocket stages and satellites that can be observed from Earth, the many small scrap pieces of man-made objects represent a particular threat to the ISS in addition to micrometeoroids . Fragments that are 1  cubic centimeter and smaller can also be kinetic Energy cause great damage to the ISS. Ballistic panels , also known as micrometeorite shields, are built into the station's cladding to protect pressurized modules and key systems at the station. The type and thickness of these protective plates depends on the susceptibility to damage to which a part of the station is exposed to the fragments in space. In the US part of the station, Whipple shields are used as protective plates. Carbon fiber reinforced plastic is used on the Russian part of the space station .

In order to avoid a collision with space debris or small meteorites, the space station can evade the objects with its own drives if necessary, provided that their path is known or they are recognized early enough from Earth. Ten of the evasive maneuvers had been carried out by the end of 2009. If a debris threat is detected in orbit so late that evasive maneuvers can no longer be safely carried out, the station crew closes all bulkheads on board the station and goes back to a Soyuz or Crew Dragon spaceship to then cross one to decide actual evacuation to earth. These partial evacuations have so far taken place on March 13, 2009 , June 28, 2011 , March 24, 2012 , June 16, 2015 and September 22, 2020 .

Observation of the station from the earth

ISS with Shuttle.jpg
ISS with docked shuttle, through an 8-inch Newtonian telescope
Video of the ISS flying over
Above left the Japanese cargo ship HTV-1 shortly before docking with the ISS, photographed from the Netherlands

The ISS achieves an apparent brightness of up to about −5  mag , that is, when the phase is favorable - and when it passes close to the zenith - it appears from Earth about 25 times as bright as the brightest star called Sirius with −1, 44 mag (for comparison: Venus , the brightest planet , can be bright up to −4.7 mag).

With the other modules that will be docked in the future, the reflective surface of the station will increase so that the ISS will be a little brighter.

The ISS can be seen periodically in the sky from Central Europe at certain times of the year: initially for two to three weeks almost daily at dawn, then, after a few days (depending on the season), two to three weeks in the Dusk. This sequence is repeated after almost two months. The exact times of the overflights and the tracks depend on the observation location and can be accessed online. (→ Weblinks: Spot The Station, Heavens-Above or Orbitron )

Under optimal visibility conditions, the ISS, which is several thousand kilometers away, is already visible on the western horizon at the beginning of an overflight. During the overflight, the ISS, which is only a few hundred kilometers away, can be seen with the naked eye as a rapidly passing, very bright point. Due to the lack of position lights, their brightness and the character of their movement, it cannot be confused with airplanes or other satellites. The overflight can take up to six minutes until the ISS, again several thousand kilometers away, goes down on the eastern horizon or dives into the earth's shadow.

The pass-bys and crossings of the moon or the passage in front of the sun are particularly spectacular, as are the observations during supply flights when a light object (ISS) and a dark one (transport spaceship) fly next to or behind each other at almost the same speed.


The ISS is described as the most expensive man-made object in the world. How much the project will cost in total is controversial. After NASA had to make various upward adjustments to the initial amount of 40 billion US dollars, it is no longer issuing any new cost estimates today. According to The Space Review , the total cost by 2010 was $ 150 billion.

According to ESA data from 2005, the space station cost about 100 billion; of this, the ESA countries accounted for 8 billion euros. According to a publication from 2010, 41 percent of European costs were borne by Germany. Switzerland contributed around 2.5 percent and Austria less than 0.4 percent of the European costs. France took a 27.2% share and Italy 18.9%.

NASA (United States of America)

Outdated budget planning by NASA from 2004 (until 2020, "FY" = English Fiscal Year)

The NASA budget for 2007 recorded costs for the ISS (excluding the shuttle costs, which are a separate item) in the amount of 25.6 billion dollars for the years 1994 to 2005. For 2005 and 2006, 1.7 and 1, respectively $ 8 billion made available. NASA's annual cost rose to $ 3 billion by 2014.

The $ 3 billion budget for 2015 was broken down as follows:

  • Operation and Maintenance: Around $ 1.2 billion was required to operate and maintain the ISS.
  • Crew and cargo transportation: At $ 1.5 billion, the transportation of astronauts and cargo was the highest cost. Since NASA had no way of sending astronauts to the ISS at that time, seats on Soyuz flights had to be bought.
  • Research: Only about $ 300 million has been budgeted for research on the ISS .

If NASA had spent about $ 2.5 billion annually on the operation of the ISS between 2014 and 2019, the operating costs between the start of the program in 1993 and 2019 would have added up to $ 60 billion. The 33 shuttle flights for the construction and supply of the space station are said to have cost a further 35-50 billion dollars. Together with the preliminary work by NASA in the design of the planned but never realized forerunner stations of the ISS, it can be assumed that NASA alone spent approximately at least 100 billion dollars on the International Space Station.

ESA (Europe)

The ESA calculates its contribution over the total 30-year duration of the project at 8 billion euros. The costs for the development of the Columbus module amounted to almost 1 billion (this amount partly caused by many changes and imposed management structures). The far greater part of the costs is attributable to the operational phase (operation of the European ground center, production / storage of spare parts, rental costs for data transmission lines, etc.).

The development of the ATV, including the first start of Jules Verne, cost 1.35 billion euros. The four other flight copies were cheaper with a total of 875 million euros, as there were no more development costs. Since each flight of an Ariane 5 rocket cost at least 125 million euros at the time, costs of at least 2.725 billion euros were to be expected for the ATV.

ATV costs for the flights are partially offset against NASA for the costs of using the station resources incurred by Columbus.

JAXA (Japan)

The Kibo laboratory has already cost JAXA $ 2.81 billion [until when?]. Add to this the module's annual operating expenses in the $ 350 million to $ 400 million range.

Roscosmos (Russia)

A significant amount of the budget of the Russian space agency Roskosmos is spent on the ISS. Since 1998, Roskosmos has carried out more than 30 Soyuz flights and more than 50 Progress flights. The total costs are difficult to estimate. The Russian modules that are already in orbit are descendants of the Mir design, so the development costs for this are much lower than for many other components of the project. However, costs for newly ordered components have now been published.

CSA (Canada)

Canada and the Canadian space agency CSA , whose main contribution to the International Space Station is the Canadarm2 module, put its costs for the project in the years 1984-2004 at a total of 1.4 billion Canadian dollars . In addition to the Canadarm2, the CSA also had the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator (SPDM, German clever working device for special purposes) developed as a further contribution to the International Space Station. It was installed on the ISS on March 18, 2008.

Plans for the end of the station

time planning

The ISS was originally planned to operate by 2020 at the latest. On January 8, 2014, however, NASA announced after consultation with the international partners that the station should continue to operate until at least 2024.

During the crisis in Ukraine in 2014 , Roskosmos questioned cooperation beyond 2020 after NASA had stopped cooperation with Russia in some other areas (but not with the ISS) for political reasons. Russia's then Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin stated that the Russian ISS segment could be operated on its own after 2020, "but the American segment will not be independent of the Russian". Without Russia, the Americans would have to “take their astronauts to the ISS on the trampoline”. The latter statement became a running gag in US space circles; The US aerospace entrepreneur Elon Musk later joked after the first manned flight of his new ISS feeder spaceship Crew Dragon : “The trampoline works!” In February 2015, Roskosmos announced that it would continue to operate the ISS until around 2024 and then one with the existing Russian modules wanting to build their own space station. In April 2021, the Russian government decided to instead set up the Russian orbital service station ( Russian Российская орбитальная служебная станция , ROSS) with new modules from the end of 2025 .

In the USA, a new, privately operated space station is being pursued as a follow-up project. Former NASA managers founded the company Axiom Space back in 2016 , which, in cooperation with NASA, would like to add a new segment to the ISS from 2024. After the ISS has been abandoned, it could remain in space as an independent space station.

Technically, the ISS could be operated until 2028–2030. Therefore there are common efforts of all participating countries to extend the operation until then.


There was originally a plan to bring the dismantled station back to earth in parts with space shuttle flights after the end of its use. Since the Space Shuttles were decommissioned in 2011, however, there has been no longer any transport option for such high payloads.

Since then, a targeted re-entry into the earth's atmosphere with various propulsion variants to slow down, so that after a delay due to the atmospheric air, a decline in the uninhabited part of the South Pacific between Tahiti, New Zealand and Chile ( spaceship cemetery ) is possible, on the one hand to avoid space debris and on the other hand damage avoid the crash of the largest man-made object on earth.

The necessary braking thrust to bring the ISS onto a controlled crash course could be provided by several of the Russian Progress or the American Cygnus space transporters , which are otherwise used for the regular raising of the ISS orbit. In 2001 the smaller Russian space station Mir, which was comparatively light at 125 t, was brought to a controlled crash in the Pacific by means of three brake thrusts from a Progress transporter.


On the occasion of his return flight to Earth, a cover version of David Bowie's Space Oddity sung by the Canadian ISS commander Chris Hadfield and a music video shot on the space station were published on the Internet on May 12, 2013 . This clip was viewed over twelve million times in four days.

A geocache has been on the space station since 2008 , which was placed by space tourist Richard Garriott during his stay there.

See also

Web links

Commons : International Space Station  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: International Space Station  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

General links


Observation and position links

Individual evidence

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