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. 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.
Main elements developed by Italy: Logistic modules Leonardo, Raffaello and Donatello
MPLM (Multi Purpose Logistic Modules) are pressurized modules used to transport to the International Space Station equipments, supplies and experiments through the U.S. spaceship. Modules are launched in orbit inside the shuttle bay of cargo. Each MPLM may be linked to the Station for a week and is approachable by the astronauts who may easily perform loading and downloading activities.
At the end of the activities, MPLM is unhooked from the Station and located inside the hold of the shuttle so as to come back to earth. Each module has been carried out so as to perform 25 missions in ten years (that is its life time). MPLM has a cylindrical shape, is made of steel and weighs about 4500 kg. It is made of curved weld panels 6,6 meters long and with a diameter of 4,5 meters The module is protected by the so called "thermic covers" and by panels serving as a shield in case of crash against a micrometeorite.
The double-ended cylinder is closed by cone-shaped frames equipped with doors that can be opened so as to load experiments and logistic supplies on earth on the one hand, and to allow the ISS's team to have access, to the other. In order to ensure a suitable environment to astronauts, the module is equipped with systems so as to control the inside atmosphere and to maintain the temperatures both of the on board equipments and of air temperature. Furthermore, it is equipped with a rack air-cooling circulation system, with a system used to distribute electric power to on board equipment and with a computer for the management of the module functions as well as of safety systems.
Loads are located inside the stores installed within the inside surface of the module. Five of these stores may contain an electric power as well as a testing refrigeration system. During their stay in orbit "racks" brought from earth are transferred into the modules as well as in the Station laboratories. Afterwards, MPLM is loaded with stores to be brought on earth and located inside the hold of the space shuttle for their re-entry phase. Within these racks, appliances and instruments used for in-orbit research activity will be inserted, as well as not necessary instruments and debris.