ASI - Agenzia Spaziale Italiana - Mission and Projects ASI - Agenzia Spaziale Italiana - Mission and Projects

The International Space Station (ISS)

The International Space Station (ISS) is one of the most important and ambitious cooperation programmes at the international level in the scientific and technological field ever undertaken and can be considered the greatest engineering work ever achieved by man. With the launch of the logistics module Leonardo, which took place in March 2001, Italy has become the third nation, after Russia and the United States, to send an ISS element into orbit. Leonardo is a non-permanent module of the Station, and the first in a series of elements produced in Italy that will make up a considerable part of the habitable volume of the giant space complex.

Thanks to its pressurised laboratories and external platforms, the ISS, once it is completed, will be a veritable international orbiting laboratory for multidisciplinary research and will afford researchers opportunities without precedent in science and technology in research areas such as physics, chemistry, biology, medicine, physiology, Earth and universe sciences.


How it is made up
Once it is completed, in 2010, the International Space Station will be made up of a complex of pressurised modules 74 metres in length and of a reticular structure, which extending for 110 metres, will hold up solar panels for generating electrical energy and radiators for dissipating excess heat. A series of functional elements of the Station will be mounted on this structure, including the Canadian robotics arm and four platforms for lodging payloads and external experiments. Once it is assembled, the entire complex will cover a surface area equal to a football (soccer) field. Habitable space will be 935 cubic metres (equal to the volume of two jumbo jets) and will include, among other things, the following laboratories:


• DESTINY, the US multidisciplinary laboratory
• COLUMBUS, the European multidisciplinary laboratory
• KIBO, the Japanese multidisciplinary laboratory
• Russian Research Module, the Russian multidisciplinary laboratory.

 

Italy's role

Italy plays a dominant role in the program of development and utilization of the International Space Station (ISS), gained not only thanks to its significant participation to the ESA European program for the accomplishment of Columbus Orbital facility (COF) and to its use (program to which Italy is involved in the measure of 19%), but also thanks to its bilateral agreement with NASA. Following this agreement, further to the projecting, accomplishment and supply of three logistic modules and the relevant engineering and logistic support for all ISS operational life, ASI has acquired rights of utilization equal to 0,85% of NASA resources and of Italian astronaut flights. Negotiations with NASA have been established to guarantee benefits for Italy taking into consideration new plans of NASA pertinent to the ISS and to Shuttle flights. Furthermore, ASI is engaged in assuring both technical and operational assistance during the entire life of the same modules as well as in supplying spare parts made in Europe. The assistance involves logistic activities and the upkeep of the modules, preparation of missions, execution of flight missions, control and reconfiguration of the modules after the flight. These services are carried out through ALTEC.

Italy plays a particularly important role in this programme, participating in three ways:


• Through the NASA/ASI agreement for the MPLMs for which ASI was to supply three logistics modules in Exchange for right to use the station
• Through participation, through the European Space Agency for realization primarily of the COLUMBUS laboratory
• Through an agreement with NASA and ESA for the development and creation of Nodes 2 and 3 of the Space Station in Italy.


In addition, Italian industry has been greatly involved in developing key elements of the station developed by the European Space Agency (Cupola, ATV).


NASA/ASI Agreement for the MPLMs
The agreement relative to the development of the Multi Purpose Logistic Module (MPLM) was signed in December 1991 and modified in October 1997 to take into account changes from the new configuration of the space station and Russia's entrance into the programme. Based on the agreement, ASI has developed and supplied to NASA (respectively in 1998, 2000, 2001) three MPLM flight units called Leonardo, Raffaello and Donatello. It then committed to supply support to the operations of the modules in exchange for:


• Use rights (in terms of allocations in pressurised and external environments, upload, download, mass, volume, energy, crew time, and communications) equal to .85% of NASA's quota.
• Six flight opportunities for Italian astronauts, three short-term ones as members of the SPACE SHUTTLE and three long-term ones as members of the Station's crew.