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 °
Rotation 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: 8033 days
Manned since: 7320 days
Current crew of ISS Expedition 64
Rescue ships: Soyuz MS-17
SpaceX Crew-1
The current occupation

left to right:

United StatesUnited States Kathleen Rubins (since October 14, 2020) Victor Glover (since November 17, 2020) Sōichi Noguchi (since November 17, 2020) Sergei Ryschikow (since October 14, 2020), Commander Michael Hopkins (since November 17, 2020) Shannon Walker ( since November 17, 2020) Sergei Kud-Swertschkow (since October 14, 2020)
United StatesUnited States
United StatesUnited States
United StatesUnited States

Existing modules of the ISS and those yet to be started, as of August 2019

Existing modules of the ISS and those yet to be started, as of August 2019

The International Space Station ( English International Space Station , shortly ISS , Russian Международная космическая станция (МКС) , Meschdunarodnaja kosmitscheskaja stanzija (FMD) ) is currently the only permanently manned space station . 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 currently the largest satellite in Earth orbit and generally the largest man-made object in space. The costs for construction and operation amounted to more than one hundred billion euros by 2018.

The ISS circles the earth at a height of around 400 km with an orbit inclination of 51.6 ° in an easterly direction within around 93 minutes and, depending on the orientation of the solar module, has a spatial dimension of around 109 m × 51 m × 73 m. Their mass is around 420 t. Since November 2, 2000, the ISS has been permanently inhabited by space travelers.

Participating countries

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

The ISS is a joint project of the US American 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 has expressed its wish to participate in the ISS, but has so far failed due to the US veto , which is why China is currently working on its own space station. China is pushing ahead with the construction of its own Chinese space station with the planned launch date in 2022.


The first ideas 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 completing the Apollo program , the focus was more specifically on building 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 flights.

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, it was 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 American side, the name Alpha was proposed, but it was rejected by Russia because the Mir station was the first space station - Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet. By 1998, 13 other countries joined the project: 11 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 US 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 launchers and space shuttles and assembled there. Around 40 assembly flights were necessary for this. A total of 37 shuttle flights were carried out until the space shuttle was withdrawn in mid-2011. The rest was carried out by the unmanned Russian launchers Proton and Soyuz . The entire station is in routine operation, but further conversions or extensions are still planned (as of 2020).

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 connecting 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 electron system responsible for processing the breathing air was installed. In October 2000, the STS-92 mission brought the first grid segment, called Integrated Truss Structure Z1 , to the station. 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 , moved into the station. She took off for the station with Soyuz TM-31 .

Manned construction

The next module was the STS-97 shuttle mission, the first of four large solar modules to be brought 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. The US laboratory module Destiny was brought to the station with the STS-98 mission 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 space travelers to perform space exits without the help of the shuttle and to help build the station.

On September 14, 2001 the Russian docking module Pirs was launched , which was used both for docking Soyuz and Progress spaceships and for exiting in Russian spacesuits. For the launch of this module, a Soyuz rocket 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 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 connection node (Node 2) 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 framework. After the Discovery had left the ISS, the 16th long -term crew moved the shuttle docking adapter ( PMA-2 ) from Destiny to Harmony and the Harmony / PMA-2 assembly was docked in its final position at the end of Destiny . After a break of more than six years, this was the first expansion of the living space on the ISS that the ISS crews could use.

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 7,320 days to date (November 17, 2020). 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).

After the ISS partners Template: future / in 4 yearsagreed to operate the space station until at least 2024 , Russia is planning to add three more modules based on a new concept. In 2020 the spherical coupling module Pritschal is to be attached to the lower end of the MLM Naúka. Two large research and energy modules ( NEM 1 and 2 ) are to be linked here from 2021 . 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 ordered 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
Prichal (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 its start in Nov. 1998 to November 2018
Animation of International Space Station trajectory.gif
Animation of the ISS orbit from September 14, 2018 to November 14, 2018, around Earth (which is 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 approximately 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 orbit ellipse, the height fluctuates by a maximum of 20 kilometers during one orbit between perigee and apogee . Within this variation range, sometimes also below, the altitude is chosen depending on the eleven-year cycle of solar activity , because this determines the expansion 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 Soyuz , Progress , ATV or the Zvezda module. On July 10, 2018, it was done for the first time by a Cygnus space shuttle . 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 cost of supply flights and the strong altitude dependence of the density of space debris, whose particles are also subject to air friction and do not exist for long on low orbits, speak against a much higher altitude. Particles smaller than 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 therefore 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. However, to an observer who can see it appear 10 ° above the horizon at night with a suitable view, it first shows 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. With the commercial crew and cargo program (and the commercial crew development and commercial resupply services included in it ), selected private companies began developing and building spacecraft . From April 2008 to August 2014, the ISS u. a. by the European Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) built by Airbus Defense and Space . At the same time, the Japanese H-2 Transfer Vehicle (HTV) developed by the state-owned JAXA supplied the ISS from September 2009 to 2020 . In 2012, the US space company SpaceX began to supply the ISS with the Dragon . In 2014 Orbital Sciences Corporation followed with the space shuttle Cygnus . In May 2020, the Dragon 2 was the first transport of astronauts to the ISS by a private company.

Transporter Starting
Skills carrier Starting costs
Rough information
Period of use image
Soyuz Passenger
Freight transport Reboost
return transport
Soyuz since 1967 (from 2000 to 2019 60 times to the ISS)
Soyuz TMA-7 spacecraft.jpg
progress 2.3 t - Freight transport
fuel transfer
Soyuz $ 65 million since 1978 (from 2000 to 2019 74 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 spacemen
Space shuttle $ 1 billion 2001–2011 (12 ×)
Mplm in shuttle.jpg
ATV 7.7 t - Freight transport
fuel transfer
Ariane 5 $ 600 million 2008–2015 (5 ×)
View of ATV-2 - cropped and rotated.jpg
HTV 6.0 t - 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 by ISPR
Transport of external loads
Return transport
Falcon 9 $ 150 million 2012–2020 (21 ×)
SpaceX Dragon 16 (46205223352) .jpg
Cygnus 3.75 t - Freight
transport Transport by ISPR
Antares / Atlas 5 $ 220 million since 2014 (13 × until 2019)
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
Falcon 9 $ 230 million since 2019 (2 ×)
SpaceX Crew Dragon Demo-1 Successfully Docks to Station.jpg
Dream chaser 5.5 t 1.75 t Freight transport Vulcan from 2021 (planned)
HTV-X Freight
transport Transport of ISPR
Transport of external loads
H3 from 2022 (planned)Template: future / in 2 years
The Progress (Model: M-14M) shortly before arriving at the ISS in January 2012


The Russian Progress transport spaceships provide basic supplies for the station. The unmanned transporters derived from the Soyuz spacecraft are able to supply the ISS on an average of four flights a 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 higher take-off frequencies.

The spaceships are not reusable. 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 small diameter of the connecting hatches, which is why Progress cannot deliver bulky payloads and spare parts (such as gyroscopes ). Russia uses the Progress versions Progress M , Progress M1 and Progress M1M for transports to the ISS . The first two versions have already been used to supply the Mir space station and essentially differ only in the proportion of fuel that can be taken along. Progress M1M was first deployed on November 26, 2008 and has a significantly higher payload capacity.

Multi-Purpose Logistics Module

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

The Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (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 approx. 9.1 tons, higher than that of the Progress spaceships. The modules should be usable a maximum of 25 times and bring equipment to the station or results of experiments back to Earth. After the shuttle had docked , the module was lifted 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 was 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.


ATV-3 docking in March 2012

From 2008 to 2014 ESA also contributed to the supply of the station. This happened with the ATV ( Automated Transfer Vehicle ), which, like the Russian Progress ships, transported cargo. The payload capacity of an ATV was 7.5 tonnes, 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 socket of the Russian Zvezda module. The docking aids required (antennas and laser reflectors) are located there.

The first ATV was launched on March 9, 2008 under the name “Jules Verne” from an Ariane 5 rocket and successfully docked at the space station on April 3. On April 21st and 25th, it lifted the station's orbit by a total of 6.4 km and on September 29, 2008, “Jules Verne” burned up over the Pacific with 6.3 tons of garbage from the station as planned. The ESA contract covers a total of five ATV flights. A further deployment was planned every year from 2010 up to and including 2013. Due to a good supply situation and delays in the shuttle program, however, there were postponements. The ATV-2 "Johannes Kepler" started for the station in February 2011, the ATV-3 "Edoardo Amaldi" docked at the ISS on March 29, 2012. On June 15, 2013 ATV-4 "Albert Einstein" docked at the ISS and on August 12, 2014 the last ATV-5 "Georges Lemaître".

The HTV freighter (model: Kounotori 4) shortly before docking with the ISS in August 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 (English white stork) was chosen for the cargo space ships. The size of the HTV roughly corresponds to 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 flight of the HTV took off on September 10, 2009. It was successfully docked to the Harmony ISS module on September 17th. 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 participation 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 . Future supply flights are planned with the modernized Cargo Dragon 2 , which - like ATV and Progress - can dock with the ISS fully automatically. Preparations for this were already 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.


Jeff Williams at work in the Destiny lab

The space station has been permanently manned by a permanent team of 2–6 people since November 2, 2000; for a short time the number can rise to 9 space travelers. The operation of the station is divided into consecutively numbered "expeditions" currently lasting around 2-4 months. The participants in the expeditions are called "long-term crews" and usually stay on board for two expeditions, that is for about half a year.

One of the ISS crew members has the function of the commander and is in charge of the other expedition participants - the "flight engineers". The command office changes 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 set off 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 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. Since the return of Nicole Stott with STS-129 , the team exchange has been carried out exclusively via Soyuz spaceships.

With the arrival of Soyuz TMA-15 on May 29, 2009, ISS expedition 20 began . This was the first time that six crew members were permanently on the ISS and two Soyuz spaceships were available for a possible evacuation of the station. NASA estimates the probability of an evacuation within a period of six months at 1: 124 (2008). The list of ISS expeditions gives an overview of all long-term crews .

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

A total of 234 people have already visited the ISS, of which 114 have completed (or are completing) one or more long-term stays. Seven of the visitors were space tourists who 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 them Charles Simonyi already 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 .

The longest mission for a long time was ISS Expedition 14 with 215 days, 8 hours and 22 minutes and 48 seconds. Since 2009, the regular ISS expeditions alternately only lasted about four and about two months. Since then, the space travelers have usually belonged to two consecutive expeditions, so that the flight duration of about six months has not changed. In December 2019 Christina Koch set a new world record for long-term stays for women in space.

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, it took two days.

From June 8 to December 20, 2018, the German astronaut Alexander Gerst was on the ISS with his colleagues Sergei Valerjewitsch Prokopjew from Russia and the American Serena Auñón . On October 3rd, he took command of the space station, making him the first German to be a commander in space. Alexander Gerst has already been to the ISS twice, and the first time there was also a long-term mission; In 2014 he spent a total of 165 days in space. Gerst reported in detail about his everyday life in space, including on his blog.


Basically between under pressure distinguished standing and non-pressurized modules. All the modules used by the astronauts to live, sleep and work 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 cargo module for the temporary storage of equipment. Since August 2012, the spherical coupling node Sarjas has served as a base for the Russian crane Strela-2 .


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 storage 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, as well as 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 a total of 24 racks that can be used for experiments, control units or as storage space. In the laboratory, experiments in the areas of microgravity, life sciences, biology, ecology, earth exploration, space research and technology are carried out.


Quest (English for striving , search ) is the US airlock of the ISS. It allows leaving the station in US space suits for maintenance and repair work outside the ISS. The US spacesuits and tools for spacecraft are also stored in the airlock.


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.


Harmony (Node 2) (engl. For harmony , unity ), a connection node that is docked at the Destiny module. It offers additional connection options for the Kibō module, the Columbus module and for MPLM modules or HTV transporters . It has eight racks that 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 to be 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 launched 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. However, it can be filled with cargo and brought to earth like an MPLM with the space shuttle, but was designed for permanent stay in space at Kibo.
  • The Pressurized Module (PM) ; the pressurized main module is about the size of the US Destiny laboratory - it weighs a total of almost 16 tons. At the end of the module there is a small pressure hatch to retrieve experiments from the platform or to mount them there.
  • The Remote Manipulator System (JEMRMS) is the ten meter long robotic arm with which experiments can be brought onto the platform or retrieved 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) .

The Int-Ball camera drone has been tested in Kibō since mid-2017 . It is intended to relieve the astronauts of photography work and, in cooperation with ground personnel, improve the implementation of experiments.


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 and will complement it and probably replace it from 2014. 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.


Rasswet ( 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 . 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 was 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 built in to use the space 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 purpose, PMA-3 was moved 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 approaching spaceships (e.g. Dragon spaceship / CST-100 / 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 arranged on the left in the direction of flight (from English portside , port side). 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. 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 dissipated by means of radiation via radiators. Three-row radiators can be found on the central truss elements S1 and P1. In addition, a smaller radiator belongs to each solar module. The radiators are the logical counterparts to the solar panels that supply the station with energy, thus preventing heat build-up in the station.

Canadarm2 with OBSS

Astronaut Steve Robinson is carried by Canadarm2 during STS-114 .

The station's robot arm is called Canadarm2 or SSRMS (Space Station Remote Manipulator) (based on the shuttle's Canadarm ). 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 therefore 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 robot arm of the space shuttle to also be able to inspect the underside, the so-called Orbiter Boom Sensor System (OBSS), was permanently deposited on the ISS in 2011 as an Enhanced International Space Station Boom Assembly for the STS-134 mission . For this purpose, some modifications had to be made to the OBSS and a. with a gripping coupling to make it compatible with the robot arm of the station. The extension arm was proven useful in 2007 when the P6 solar panel was repaired during the STS-120 mission .


Dextre is the nickname of the "robot hand", whose technical name 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 a large number of joints and devices, for example 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 refers to two cranes of Russian design, which are used in the context of space missions for material transport 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-Magnet-Spectrometer -Experiment (AMS) is the name of a modern particle detector for investigating cosmic radiation , which 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 June 2017 with a Dragon capsule and installed there. It consists of 56 individual 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 built by Airbus in Bremen for experiments in free space. It was brought to the ISS on the Dragon CRS-20 supply flight at the beginning of March 2020 and installed by remote control on the European Columbus laboratory module at the beginning of 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 multipurpose laboratory module) is to be brought to the ISS in 2021 (originally planned for the end of 2011) with a Proton-M rocket together with the European Robotic Arm. 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 are mounted on the outside.
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 has a length of over 11 m 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 time spent on outdoor work (EVA) and perform various tasks semi-automatically and fully automatically.
Mockup of the Prichal module
Platform (UM)
Due to the contractual extension of the operating life of the International Space Station until at least 2024 Template: future / in 4 years, Russia plans to expand its segment by two or three more modules, which were originally intended to be developed for the next generation of space stations. In January 2011 the construction and launch of a spherical connection module were approved. The Uslowoi module (UM) 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 docked at the Naúka Nadir docking port. There are then five coupling points for additional modules and unmanned or manned spaceships. (See also description in the article: Nauka )
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 about 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. This may be followed by a second, similar module. The new modules, including Naúka, could Template: future / in 4 yearsalso be decoupled from the ISS after 2024 and continue to be used as an independent station.
The Axiom Space modules coupled to the ISS (artist's impression)
In January 2020, NASA and the company Axiom Space agreed to expand the ISS with several privately operated modules. Axiom plans to have the first of these brought to Template: future / in 4 yearsthe 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 was supposed to be a ten meter long module that was only intended for living. It had four sleeping areas, a shower and a kitchenette.
Research Modules
The research modules should make up a large part of the Russian laboratory wing. Research areas included geosciences, astronomy, biology, and medicine. In the first planning there was talk of three modules, in 1998 there were only two modules, which, however, were also missing in the plans from September 2001. In the meantime, in addition to two mini research modules (MIM 1 Rasswet , 2010 and MIM 2 Poisk , 2009) and the rebuilt MLM Naúka (2020), one or two large research modules of a new generation are to be built and part of the ISS from 2021.
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 that should correct the orbit of the ISS. The Russian system was supposed 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. In the meantime, one or two more modules are to be connected from 2021, which have larger, trackable solar cells and can each deliver around 18 kW of power.
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 is a wingless lifting body , which should enable the evacuation of the International Space Station in an emergency. The glider should offer space for seven people and be equipped with a drive unit for leaving the orbit. It was planned that such a crew return vehicle (in German: crew return vehicle ) would be docked at the ISS at all times . However, development of the X-38 was discontinued in 2002 due to high costs. The official name for the prototype of the vehicle, which has flown several times in the atmosphere, is X-38, but one often speaks simply of the "Crew Return Vehicle", although this name is also generally used for rescue vehicles of this type. The possibility of evacuation was and is subsequently ensured by the Soyuz spaceships . Because a Soyuz landing capsule can carry a maximum of three people, the ISS could not achieve the originally planned crew of seven space travelers.
OKA-T was a spacecraft weighing just under 8 t. B. on nanotechnology , nanoelectronics or molecular beam epitaxy under particularly good microgravity, better than 1 µg (micro-g), as well as particularly 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.

Responsibilities of the space agencies and their contact with the ISS

The national and international space agencies have agreed to operate an international space station (ISS) with the International Space Station Program . Depending on the space agency, the contribution to the International Space Station varied. This can be seen in the modular structure of the international space station. The respective space agencies are responsible for the operation of these modules and the various space transporters that control the ISS. You are in contact with the crew of the ISS through the Mission Control Center (ground stations) and thus perform a supervising or controlling function.

Ground stations and other facilities relevant to the ISS and its operation ( International Space Station Program ). (English image description)

Communication and data transfer of the ISS

Arrangement of laptops and screens for operating the Canadaarm 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 via its satellites (TDRS) via S-band (192 kbps) and Ku-band (up to 300 Mbps). In 2014, an experimental laser communication system also came to the station. Communication with astronauts during spacecraft operations and with the shuttle is established 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 get in touch 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 from IBM and Lenovo ( ThinkPad ) as well as HP on the ISS . Parts of it are out of date or no longer in use or serve as replacements. The notebooks that are 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, these ran on Windows .

Aleksey Ovtschinin and Oleg Kononenko at 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 WiFi and Ethernet , which in turn is connected to the earth stations via the Ku-band . While the computers originally had speeds of 10 Mbit / s download and 3 Mbit / s upload, NASA updated the systems to 600 Mbit / s in late August 2019.

Radio name

For a long time the radio name was Station . However, during ISS Expedition 14 , astronaut 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 for realization of contacts with amateur stations on Earth, especially between schools and astronauts on the ISS via amateur radio . The first phase of ARISS already took place in the first module of the ISS 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 percent oxygen , 78 percent nitrogen ), is the same as what people are used to on earth.

Oxygen supply and air filtration

Oxygen generation and carbon dioxide filtering takes place in the Russian part of the space station using 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 (1.3 HP ) 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 installed.

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 if the air were still 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 airtight bags which, when full, are stored in aluminum boxes in freight transporters (such as the Progress ). After undocking from the space station, this freighter burns up when it re-enters 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) with two elements each, 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 labeled 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 ( nickel-hydrogen cells ) for storage , the other part goes directly to the numerous consumers. For this purpose, the electricity is routed via four MBSU distributors (Main Bus Switching Units). In order to ensure an even supply of energy to the entire ward, an MBSU can be connected to any other MBSU via cross connections.

Two panels feed a distributor that splits the power lines and outputs four lines that regulate the energy down in DDCU rectifiers (direct current-to-direct current converter units). The electrical energy is then distributed to each element of the US-based part 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) and 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 classically attached directly to the larger 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. 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 so 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 the sleeping compartments in the Harmony module (shown in the photo: Ronald John Garan , Catherine Coleman , Paolo Nespoli and Alexander Samokutyaev )

Calculation of time, "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 mix of Pacific ( PST / PDT ), Central ( CST / CDT ), and Eastern Time ( EST / EDT ) time information for ISS public relations . In order to adapt to the main working hours in the control centers, however, the daily routine is often postponed.

There are also directions on the ISS for spatial orientation . It was defined that the direction to the universe is "above" and the wall facing 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 of the station.

Daily routine of the crew

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 noise protection and better ventilation. This is important because otherwise the crew members could experience a lack of oxygen , as if there is no air exchange on the ISS, a bubble of exhaled carbon dioxide forms around the head. 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 switched off completely 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 with the following meals) and the daily early inspection inside the ISS, a conference with the ground stations follows until 8:10 am before the crew in usually busy with 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 (picture taken on July 21, 2009).

Food and personal hygiene

In the US portion of the space station, most of the food is vacuum-sealed or canned in plastic bags. Preserved food is perceived as having a reduced taste due to the weightlessness , so that an attempt is made to balance this effect with 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 while on earth to put together a menu; the individual meals are then pre-cooked, weighed, vacuum-sealed and frozen on earth before the mission starts. 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. The ISSpresso 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.

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). The crew used easily digestible toothpaste for their teeth , which they did not spit out, but swallowed 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, clothes after use (socks are worn for about a week, T-shirts for a month) are treated like other 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 , 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 , disturbances of the sense of balance, and a weakened immune system .

Sport as a countermeasure

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

Each crew member usually exercises 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. There is also an almost uninterrupted radio link with the ground station. The following emergency equipment is on board: defibrillator , ultrasound device , stretcher with fixations 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 has no places where moisture can collect (or where microbes can multiply) and no places that are not used for repair work are attainable.

However, despite the greatest possible hygiene , potentially harmful microorganisms can spread on board the ISS, contaminate the air and water filters and are therefore not only harmful to the health of the crew, but also corrode the ISS materials (e.g. plastics, metal) through their acids and thus 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.

After almost 20 years of human occupation of the ISS (as of 2020), around 55 types of microorganisms have settled there, many of which have been detectable on the ISS for over 15 years and thus survived there. HEPA filters are used to keep the station clean .

Volume on board the ISS

The sound 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 cycle and the fans for the vital air circulation. Although devices are tested for low-vibration operation before being used on the ISS, parts of the space station turned out to be louder when used in space than they were previously in test operation on Earth. For example, astronaut James Shelton Voss suffered hearing damage in 2001 after staying on the ISS for 163 days .

Crew members wear audio dosimeters on their belts that constantly 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 a 24-hour period. Lower values ​​apply to higher tones, 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 electromagnetic field or the earth's magnetic field . The magnetosphere ( earth's atmosphere ) directs and partially absorbs the cosmic rays and the solar wind , usually from a height of 70,000 km around the earth and thus also around 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 solar activity happened to expedition 10 , which sought protection in a solar flare with an X-3 sun ray intensity in a radiation- protected room in the Russian part of the station, which was 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 air traffic passengers .

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) was observed among space travelers , which is due to the higher radiation exposure.

Research projects on the ISS

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 on 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, it was found that the main cause was 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 vibration and high current spikes in the swivel drive motor have been detected. Subsequent inspections of EVAs during the STS-120 and STS-123 space missions showed severe contamination from metal chips and dirt in the large drive wheel. Repairs to the joints were made during STS-126 .

During the 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 separated from the rest of the cooling system by remotely closing a valve. The same valve was then used to vent the ammonia from the damaged part of the cooling system, eliminating a leak.

On August 1, 2010, during ISS Expedition 24 , a malfunction led to a reduction in the performance of the cooling system inside the space station 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 another 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 .

See also: List of space exits

Dangers of space debris for the ISS

SDIO KEW Lexan projectile.jpg
A 7 gram polycarbonate object (center) that hit a 15 cm block of aluminum at 25,200 km / h
speed of rotation of the ISS).
Terrestrial objects in the Earth's gravitational field , including space debris and geosynchronous satellites
ISS impact risk.jpg
A NASA model showing areas of high risk of impact from space debris for the International Space Station. There is a lot of space debris at the low altitude at which the ISS is in orbit

In contrast to larger parts of rocket stages and satellites , which can be observed from Earth, the many small pieces of scrap of those earthly objects, in addition to micrometeoroids, represent a considerable threat to the ISS. Fragments that are 1 cubic centimeter and smaller can cause considerable damage to the ISS due to the kinetic energy . 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 micro meteorites, the space station can evade the objects with its own drives if necessary, provided that they are recognized early enough from Earth. Ten of the evasive maneuvers had been carried out by the end of 2009. If a threat from debris in orbit is detected too late for an evasive maneuver to be safely carried out, the station crew closes all hatches on board the station and gets back into the Soyuz spaceship in order to then return to Earth via an actual evacuation decide. These partial evacuations occurred previously on 13.03.2009 , 28.06.2011 , 24.03.2012 and 06.16.2015 .

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 reaches an apparent magnitude of up to about −5  mag , that is, it appears in favorable phase , and when it passes close to the zenith , 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 reflecting surface of the station will increase so that the ISS can achieve even higher brightness classes.

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 every day at dawn, then, after a few days (depending on the season), two to three weeks at dawn Dusk. This sequence is repeated after almost two months. The exact times of the overflights and the tracks, depending on the observation location, are available online. → see web links: Spot The Station, Heavens-Above, calsky or Orbitron

Under optimal visibility conditions, the ISS, which is several thousand kilometers away, is 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 aircraft 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.

Observing with a telescope that cannot be properly controlled is extremely difficult. The axis clamps of the mount must be released and the telescope must be adjusted by hand. A low magnification (large field of view) and a flight over the ISS in the zenith (closest distance to the telescope) are recommended for observation.

The fly-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 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, 8 billion euros went to the countries of the ESA. 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 share of 27.2% and Italy 18.9%.

NASA (United States of America)

Distribution of the NASA budget 2004-2020, as of February 2004 ("FY" = English Fiscal Year)

The NASA budget for 2007 noted costs for the ISS (excluding the shuttle costs, which form 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 allocated. The annual NASA cost rose to $ 3 billion by 2014.

The $ 3 billion budget for 2015 breaks down as follows:

  • Operation and maintenance: Around $ 1.2 billion is required for the operation and maintenance of the ISS alone.
  • Crew and cargo transportation: At $ 1.5 billion, shipping astronauts and cargo is the highest cost. Since NASA currently has no way of sending astronauts to the ISS, seats on Soyuz flights have to be bought.
  • Research: Only around $ 300 million is budgeted for research on the ISS .

If NASA's projections of approximately $ 2.5 billion annually between 2014 and 2019 were correct and operations were to cease as planned in 2020, the costs since the program began in 1993 would have totaled $ 60 billion. The 33 shuttle flights to construct and supply the space station will have cost another $ 35-50 billion. Together with the preparatory work by NASA in the design of the planned but never realized forerunner stations of the ISS, it can be assumed that NASA alone will have spent approximately 100 billion dollars on the International Space Station.

ESA (Europe)

The ESA calculates its contribution over the 30-year total duration of the project at 8 billion euros. The cost of developing the Columbus module came to just under 1 billion (this amount was partly caused by many changes and imposed management structures). The far greater part of the costs is required for 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 are cheaper at 875 million euros, as the development costs have been eliminated. Since each flight of an Ariane 5 rocket costs at least 125 million euros, costs of 2.85 billion euros can be expected for ATV flights.

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. 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 that the development costs for this are much lower than for many other components of the project. However, costs for newly ordered components are now published.

CSA (Canada)

Canada or CSA , whose main contribution to the International Space Station is the Canadarm2 module, estimates its cost for the project over the past 20 years at 1.4 billion Canadian dollars . In addition to the Canadarm2, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) also had the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator (SPDM) developed as a further contribution to the International Space Station. The SPDM was installed on the ISS on March 18, 2008.

Plans for the end of the station

There was originally a plan to bring the dismantled ISS 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.

On January 8, 2014, NASA announced that the station should continue to operate until at least 2024 after consultation with international partners. Due to the developing conflict in eastern Ukraine , it partially discontinued its cooperation with Roskosmos in May 2014 , but no cutbacks were planned for the ISS operation. Thereupon Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin declared on May 13, 2014: “We want to direct the resources to other perspective cosmic projects.” The Russian ISS segment could be operated after 2020, “but the American one not independently of the Russian”. Without Russia, the Americans would have to “take their astronauts to the ISS on the trampoline”.

On February 24, 2015, Roskosmos announced that it would continue to operate the ISS until around 2024 and then build its own space station with the existing Russian modules. Technically, the ISS could be operated by 2028–2030. There are therefore efforts to extend the operation until then.

In 2018, the ISS was first raised by a Cygnus space shuttle; this was considered a test for future maneuvers of this type, including the deliberate crash of the ISS at the end of its service life. Depending on the order from NASA, the manufacturer Northrop Grumman could strengthen the engines or use several Cygnus transporters at the same time.

Alternatively, up to three unmanned Russian Progress spaceships could provide the necessary counter-thrust. The smaller Russian Mir space station, which is comparatively light at 125 t, was brought to a controlled crash in the Pacific in 2001 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.

In November 2018, NASA published video recordings of the interior and exterior of the space station for the first time, which were made with the help of a helium camera from the Red Digital Cinema Camera Company in an extremely high image resolution of 8K .

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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This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on October 3, 2006 .