Posts by: Belle Dumé

ISS looks to the future

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By Belle Dumé

The Heads of the International Space Station (ISS) agencies from Canada, Europe, Japan, Russia and the US met at European Space Agency (ESA) Headquarters in Paris yesterday as part of the ongoing meetings to celebrate the Space Station’s 10th anniversary, which is this year. I went along to find out what they have planned for ISS from now until 2015, and perhaps beyond.

Emphasis was clearly on collaboration with a capital “C”. ISS Partners seem to be very happy with what is the world’s biggest peacetime scientific cooperation to date, which is something that they can be proud of.

The Heads said ISS will continue in its role as “test-bed” for future space exploration and research and development in space.

New modules, including Japan’s H-2 Transfer Vehicle, US Commercial Orbital Transportation Services and US Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle, together with current vehicles, US Shuttle (up to 2010), Russian Soyuz and Progress, and ESA Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) were discussed.

The Heads then spoke about new initiatives, such as ESA’s plan for an ATV-Advanced Return Vehicle system for down-mass from ISS and Russia-ESA joint preparatory activities on an advanced Crew Space Transportation System.

They are also considering how best to take advantage of an increased six-man crew in 2009.

ISS should be complete by 2010 but the Heads are already looking to post-ISS times — and mentioned a possible international lunar colony.

And to round off the press conference, a surprise for us journalists: a live audio link with astronauts onboard the ESA Jules Vernes ATV, which is cargo carrier, storage facility and “tug” vehicle that raises the Space Station’s orbit every so often. The astronauts had taken original manuscripts from the pioneering 19th century science fiction writer, after whom the spacecraft is named, with them into space and proudly showed these to us in a separate video.

The audio link with ESA headquarters and the Jules Verne was also a link between the past and future, and dreams and reality, said ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain as he referred to Verne’s extraordinary vision in books like From the Earth to the Moon (1865) and Around the Moon (1870).

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Happy birthday, ISS!

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By Belle Dumé

The International Space Station celebrates its 10th anniversary later this year as its first module was launched in November 1998.

To commemorate the historic event, a symposium was held at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris this week — and in my capacity as physicsworld.com‘s Paris correspondent, I was there rubbing shoulders with space industry and agency leaders from around the world.

The symposium, organized by the International Astronautical Federation (IAF) and the European Space Agency (ESA), began by looking at history of the cooperation between 16 nations and how it all began in the 1980s — at the height of the cold war. Agreements were signed and collaborations forged thanks to the efforts of early ISS negotiators, including Mac Evans of the Canadian Space Agency, Margaret Finarelli of NASA and Fredrik Engstrom of the ESA (pictured above left to right), all now retired. The symposium also described the present, difficult, construction period and future ISS plans.

ISS crew members, Jean-Francois Clervoy, Leopold Eyharts, Satoshi Furukawa, Sergei Krikalev and Michael Lopez-Alegria also explained what it is like to actually live in space for long periods of time. Such experience will be invaluable for future human space travel.

ISS is first and foremost a giant space laboratory, with experiments being carried out in areas as diverse as medicine and life sciences, microgravity, materials science and physics, and Earth observation. An amazing technical achievement, the ISS is the world’s biggest scientific collaboration to date.

Construction of the $60 billion space station (it weighs over 500 tons) began at the end of 1998 (with Zarya, the Russian control module). It has been successively built over the last decade by over 80 spaceflights, carrying different modules up to the orbiting outpost. This year, the Columbus research module from ESA, the Kibo Laboratory from Japan and the Dextre Robot of Canada were installed. This also means that all of the ISS partners now have their major elements assembled in orbit.

ISS assembly should be complete by 2010, by which time it should be the size of a football field from “port” to “starboard”.

The ISS is crucial in our quest to expand the boundaries of space exploration and research, and will be a real “stepping stone” to other planets in our solar system, like Mars, and beyond. It is also a magnificent testament to what can be achieved when nations collaborate for the advancement of humankind.

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